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4 in alleged Laos plot to be held

June 08, 2007|From the Associated Press

SACRAMENTO — A federal judge Thursday ordered four Hmong elders from the Central Valley to remain in jail while they await trial in what prosecutors allege was a plot to violently overthrow the communist government of Laos.

The four are among 10 suspects the U.S. attorney's office says formed an elaborate plan to begin sending mercenaries and nearly $10 million in weapons to Laos as soon as next week. The goal was to bomb government buildings, shoot down military aircraft and topple the country's regime, according to the criminal complaint.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Kimberly J. Mueller said she reflected for hours about whether to incarcerate the men -- three of whom are in their 70s and have health problems. But she said she couldn't "ignore the possibility those allegations have some substance."

"There are too many unanswered questions," Mueller said.

On Monday, federal prosecutors released an 88-page criminal complaint detailing months of recorded conversations with the suspects, who allegedly discussed plans to buy machine guns, grenade launchers, and mines and other explosives.

The complaint also said federal authorities have audio and video recordings of the men meeting and inspecting AK47 rifles and Stinger missiles with an undercover federal agent they believed was an international arms dealer.

At the heart of the plan, according to the court documents, was a former Laotian military general who led CIA-backed forces during the Vietnam War and a retired California National Guardsman who conducted covert operations and worked with the Hmong during that period.

The two, Vang Pao and retired Lt. Col. Harrison Jack, have similar detention hearings scheduled for Monday and June 14. Criminal defense lawyers say it is extremely unlikely either will be allowed to remain free pending trial given the judge's ruling Thursday.

The four Mueller ordered detained were Youa True Vang of Fresno, founder of Fresno's Hmong International New Year; Hue Vang, a former Clovis, Calif., police officer; Chong Yang Thao, a Fresno chiropractor; and Chue Lo of Stockton, a clan representative in United Hmong International.

All are charged with violating the federal Neutrality Act and face the possibility of life in prison.

The alleged conspirators may have been motivated by what they believed was an impending genocide planned by the Lao government. At least one of the alleged conspirators, Jack, believed the government had issued an order to exterminate the remaining 75,000 Hmong in the country. In February, the 60-year-old retired California National Guard officer wrote in an e-mail to friends that he had personally seen copies of the order.

Thousands of Hmong who helped the U.S. during the Vietnam War fled to refugee camps in Thailand following the 1975 takeover of the country by the communist Lao People's Democratic Republic.

The U.S. resettled some 250,000 Lao refugees from Thailand. The last major resettlement to the United States of about 15,000 Hmong was in 2004.

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