Vang Pao charged with Laos plot
Hmong General Vang Pao was arrested in California on Monday as the alleged mastermind of a violent plot to overthrow Laos' communist government with arms and equipment that were ready to be shipped to Thailand next week.
Vang Pao, 77, who lives in the Fresno, California, area and in the state of Minnesota, has spent decades promoting the overthrow of the regime in Laos since he escaped at the time of the communist takeover Dec 2, 1975.The indictments handed down in Sacramento culminated a six-month investigation that included meetings between undercover agents and the alleged conspirators to discuss transferring weapons to Thailand and Laos.
US prosecutors allege that Vang Pao was the mastermind behind the plot. Eight others were also arrested and charged; authorities believe there will be more arrests."We're looking at conspiracy to murder thousands and thousands of people at one time," Assistant US Attorney Bob Twiss said in federal court Monday.All nine are charged with violating the federal Neutrality Act and face the possibility of life in prison.
"No matter how strongly held their beliefs, citizens of the United States cannot become involved in a plot to overthrow a sovereign government with which the United States is at peace," Drew Parenti, FBI special agent in charge of the Sacramento region, said during a news conference following the defendants' initial court appearance.
AP says the case "reads like it was taken from the pages of a spy novel."Since January, the Hmong leaders and Jack inspected shipments of military equipment that were to be purchased and shipped to Thailand, shipments that were scheduled for June 12 and June 19, the complaint alleged.
That equipment included hundreds of machine guns, ammunition, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, anti-tank rockets, Stinger shoulder-fired missiles, mines and C-4 explosives.During a news conference after the defendants' court appearance, prosecutors displayed photographs of the weapons involved in the alleged plot. They showed a light anti-tank rocket system, a Stinger missile, Claymore mines and an AK-47 assault rifle.
The defendants also attempted to recruit a mercenary force that included former members of the Army special forces or Navy SEALs.The planning was disrupted after a six-month investigation by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The criminal complaint said Vang Pao and the other Hmong defendants plotted an insurgent campaign to overthrow the Laotian government "by violent means, including murder, assaults on both military and civilian officials of Laos and destruction of buildings and property."The defendants acted through the Lao liberation movement known as Neo Hom, led in the US by Vang Pao. It conducted extensive fundraising, directed surveillance operations and organized a force of insurgent troops within Laos, according to the complaint.
Also charged was former California National Guard Lt. Col. Harrison Ulrich Jack, a 1968 West Point graduate who was involved in covert operations during the Vietnam War. Jack acted as an arms broker and organizer of the plot, according to a criminal complaint filed in US District Court.The group was raising money to recruit a mercenary force and buy enough weapons to equip a small army, including anti-tank missiles and grenade launchers, prosecutors allege.
Vang Pao, now 77, led CIA-backed Hmong forces in Laos in the 1960s and 1970s as a general in the Royal Army of Laos. He emigrated to the US about 1975 and has been credited by thousands of Hmong refugees with helping them build new lives in the US. Since then, however, he also has been plotting to overthrow the Laotian government, according to the federal complaint.
Seven others, all prominent members of the Hmong community from California's Central Valley, also were charged Monday in federal court.
The criminal complaint identified them as- Lo Cha Thao of Clovis, a suburb of Fresno; - Lo Thao of Sacramento County, who is president of United Hmong International, which the complaint says also is known as the Supreme Council of the Hmong 18 Clans; - Youa True Vang of Fresno, founder of Fresno's Hmong International New Year; - Hue Vang, a former Clovis police officer; - Chong Yang Thao, a Fresno chiropractor; - Seng Vue of Fresno and,- Chue Lo of Stockton, both of whom are clan representatives in United Hmong International.