Vang Pao

Infobox Military Person

caption= Vang Pao in 2008
name= Major General Vang Pao
placeofbirth=Central Xiangkhuang Province, Laos, French Indochina

allegiance=French Indochina flagicon|USA
rank=Major General
branch=Royal Lao Army
commands=GCMA Laos
"Secret Army"
battles=First Indochina War
Laotian Civil War
Vietnam War (Second Indochina War)

Vang Pao (born ca. 1931) is a former Major General in the Royal Lao Government's Royal Lao Army. He is an ethnic Hmong and a leader of the Hmong American community in the United States.

Early life

Vang Pao was born in 1931, in Central Xiangkhuang Province, in the northeastern region of Laos. He began his early life as a farmer until Japanese forces invaded and occupied French Indochina in World War II. In his early teen years, Vang Pao launched his military career when he, in an effort to protect his fellow Hmong, joined the French Military.

Military career

The term "Meo Maquis" was originally used by Free French and Allied intelligence officers to describe the Hmong resistance forces working against the Japanese forces occupying Indochina and China during World War II. After WWII, French GCMA authorities recruited Vang Pao as an officer during the First Indochina War to combat the Viet Minh. Although French forces lost the war, Vang remained in the army of the newly independent Kingdom of Laos. He was the only ethnic Hmong to attain the rank of General officer in the Royal Lao Army, and he was loyal to the King of Laos while remaining a champion of the Hmong people. During the 1960s and 1970s General Vang commanded the Secret Army, a highly-effective CIA-trained and supported force that fought against the Pathet Lao and People's Army of Vietnam.

Allegations of drug running

Several American participants in the Laos operation have stated that Vang Pao and his officers used the opium trade to pay for his army and even to enrich himself, transporting it on aircraft provided by Air America. These include USAID official Ron Rickenbach, CIA officer Anthony Poshepny and photographer John Everingham. [Cockburn, Andrew and Leslie (1988-05-17). " [ Guns, Drugs and the CIA] ." "PBS Frontline".] These allegations are supported by Alfred McCoy, who interviewed Hmong opium farmers in Laos near the end of the war. [cite book|author=McCoy, Alfred W|title=The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia|location=New York|publisher=Harper and Row|year=1972]

Vang Pao in the United States

General Vang immigrated to the United States after the communists seized power in Laos in 1975. He remains widely respected by his fellow Hmong and is an esteemed elder of the American Hmong people, many of whom experienced the war or the reprisals that followed. Though he is somewhat less influential among younger Hmong-Americans who have grown up primarily in the United States, he has generally been considered an influential leader of U.S.-based Hmong, enjoying great loyalty for his position of leadership and respect for his military accomplishments. [cite news | first=Toni | last=Randolph | coauthors= Greta Cunningham | title=Hmong community reacts with alarm to charges against Vang Pao | date=2007-06-05 | url = | publisher=Minnesota Public Radio | pages = | accessdate = 2007-06-10 | language = ]

The government of Laos, along with the governments of Vietnam, the People's Republic of China, Cuba and North Korea are the world's few remaining bastions of communism. In the mid-1990s, Vang Pao, aided by influential American diplomatic allies and vast numbers of Hmong-Americans, halted forced United Nations-sponsored repatriation back to Laos of thousands of Hmong refugees in Thailand. It was a major human rights victory for the Hmong. The Thailand-based refugees, many of whom had been living in refugee camps at Wat Tham Krabok, a Buddhist temple in Thailand, were afforded the right to avoid the forced return to Laos and instead were offered relocation rights and assistance to the U.S.

Throughout Vang Pao's residence in the U.S., the Hmong leader has diplomatically opposed human rights violations by the communist government of Laos against the Hmong. In 2001, Vang Pao began to moderate this position, publicly advocating normalization of U.S.-Laotian relations in hope of alleviating the human rights abuses by the Laotian government against the indigenous Hmong people.

Since the communist Pathet Lao seized power in Laos in 1975, the government of the Lao People's Democratic Republic has been repeatedly accused of human rights violations, including attempted genocide against the Hmong people, and since 2001 the government of Laos has alleged that the Hmong are an international terrorist group.

Alleged plot to overthrow government of Laos

On June 4, 2007, following a lengthy federal investigation labeled "Operation Flawed Eagle," warrants were issued by U.S. federal courts ordering the arrest of Vang Pao and nine others for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government of Laos in violation of the federal Neutrality Acts. Following the issuance of the warrants, an estimated 250 federal agents representing numerous U.S. federal law enforcement and other agencies conducted simultaneous raids on homes, offices and other locations throughout central and southern California, arresting Vang Pao and the other nine. [Walsh, Denny. 2007. Ten accused of conspiring to oust government of Laos. "The Sacramento Bee", June 5. (accessed June 5, 2007).] The federal charges allege that members of the group inspected weapons, including AK-47s, smoke grenades, and Stinger missiles, with the intent of purchasing them and smuggling them into Thailand, where they allegedly would be shipped to anti-Laotian governmental resistance movement forces inside Laos. The one non-Hmong person among the nine arrested, Harrison Jack, a 1968 West Point graduate and retired Army infantry officer, allegedly attempted to recruit Special Operations veterans to act as mercenaries in an invasion of Laos.

On June 15, the defendants were indicted by a grand jury and an 11th man was arrested in connection with the alleged plot. [Reuters. 2007. 11th man arrested in California on Laos coup plot. June 15. (accessed July 4, 2007).] The defendants face possible life prison terms for violation of the U.S. Neutrality Act and various weapons charges. Vang Pao and the other Hmong were also initially denied bail by the California federal court, which cited each of them as a flight risk.

Since the June 4 federal raid, Vang Pao's arrest has been the subject of mounting criticism. Protest rallies, including thousands of Hmong and other supporters, have taken place in California, Minnesota, Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin. Several of Vang Pao's high-level U.S. supporters have criticized the California court that issued the arrest warrants, arguing that Vang Pao is a historically important American ally and valued current leader of U.S. and foreign-based Hmong. Calls for Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to dismiss the case with help from President Bush have yet to be answered. [Magagnini, Stephen, and Denny Walsh. 2007. Hmong rally for 'The General'."The Sacramento Bee", June 19. (accessed July 4, 2007).]

Prior to his arrest, Vang Pao was slated to have an elementary school in Madison, Wisconsin named after him, [ [ MMSD Today ] ] a proposal that met with opposition over Alfred W. McCoy's allegations that Vang had been involved in war crimes and drug trafficking, [ [ Parents Pack Meeting To Object To New School's Name - News Story - WISC Madison ] ] with Gary Yia Lee and other scholars strongly disputing his claims. [ [ Asian American Press | Op/Ed ] ] [] Vang's June 2007 arrest later led the Madison School to reopen discussion on the school's naming. [ [ Board To Revisit New School's Name After Hmong General's Arrest - News Story - WISC Madison ] ] On June 18, 2007, the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education voted to drop Vang's name from the new school, in light of the federal charges against him and the previous allegations. [ [ School Board Drops New School's Name, OKs Teacher Contract - News Story - WISC Madison ] ]

Release from jail

On July 12, 2007, under significant pressure from Vang Pao's Hmong and influential American supporters, the California federal court ordered the release of the Hmong leader on a US$1.5 million bond secured by property owned by members of his family. The Hmong were joyful to hear this news; many had participated in numerous protests over several weeks in California and elsewhere, calling for Vang Pao's release from the date of his incarceration until his release under bail nearly a month later. [ [ MPR: Vang Pao released on bail ] ]

ee also

*Air America (film)
*Battle of Lima Site 85
*Groupement de Commandos Mixtes Aéroportés GCMA Laos
*History of Laos since 1945
*Ho Chi Minh trail
*Laos Memorial
*Laotian Civil War also known as the Secret War in Laos
*North Vietnamese invasion of Laos
*Rescue Dawn
*Prince Sauryavong Savang, (survived genocide of Royal Lao family)
*Crown Prince Soulivong Savang
*Prince Thayavong Savang
*Touby Lyfoung (Hmong leader murdered in captivity 1979)
*Eugene DeBruin
*Pisidhi Indradat
*Lee Lue
*Vang Sue

Further reading

* [ Air America ] by Christopher Robbins
* [ The Ravens, Pilots of the Secret War in Laos] by Christopher Robbins
* [ Rescue Dawn: The Truth]
* [ Gene DeBruin and Co. Escape Attempt Story]
*Jane Hamilton-Merritt (1999). "Tragic Mountains". ISBN 0253207568
*Robert Curry (2004). "Whispering Death", "Tuag Nco Ntsoov": ...Our Journey with the Hmong in the Secret War for Laos ...Lub caij peb thiab Hmoob koom tes ua ntsug rog ntsiag to nyob Los Tsuas teb. ISBN 0595318096
* General Vang Pao's Last War, "New York Times" Magazine, May 11, 2008
* [ Nightmare in Laos - The True Story of a Woman Imprisoned in a communist gulag ]

External links

* [ Air America Association web site]
* [ Online Archive Materials about Air America in the Vietnam Archive at Texas Tech]
* [ Air America] - Roll of honour and images.
*imdb title|id=0099005|title=Air America


External links

* [ Biography of General Vang Pao] .
* [ "Against All Odds: The Laotian Freedom Fighters,"] by General Vang Pao, Heritage Foundation Lecture #96, March 19, 1987.
* [ "Acts of Betrayal,"] by Michael Johns, "National Review", October 23, 1995.
* [,13673,501030505-447253,00.html "Welcome to the Jungle: Recruited by the CIA to be a Secret Army During the Vietnam War, the Hmong Rebels of Laos Fought Communism. Now they Desperately Battle for their Own Survival,"] "Time magazine", May 5, 2003.
* [ "Vang Pao Met with Senior State Department Official,"] by Sing Bourommavong, Voice of America news, January 28, 2004.
* [ "Hmong General Still Revered, but Influence Waning,"] The Associated Press, June 4, 2004.
* [ "The Covert Wars of Vang Pao,"] by Tony Kennedy and Paul McEnroe, "Minneapolis Star-Tribune", July 2, 2005.
* [ "Ten Charged with Alleged Laos Plot,"] CNN, June 4, 2007.
* [ "Hmong Hero Faces Trial in California (audio),] " "The World", June 14, 2007.
* [ "Case of alleged Laos coup planners makes brief return to court,"] by Denny Walsh, "Sacramento Bee", April 24, 2008.
* [ "Gen. Vang Pao’s Last War,"] "The New York Times Magazine", May 11, 2008.

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