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Violence Flares in Laos

by Joshua Kurlantzick
laos-violence-2016 Officials attend the Communist Party Congress in Vientiane, Laos January 21, 2016. (Stringer/Reuters)

Despite its reputation for placidity, and its popularity as a backpacker tourist destination, Laos remains one of the most repressive and politically opaque countries in the world. It is consistently ranked as “not free” by Freedom House’s annual Freedom in the World Index, and unlike neighboring Thailand, Cambodia, or even Myanmar during junta rule, Laos has no organized opposition party. In fact, even small public protests in Laos are quickly suppressed, their leaders going missing for years afterward. Read more »

The Death of Vang Pao

by Joshua Kurlantzick

Shawn Xiong and thousands of Hmong protest the case against Gen. Vang Pao in Sacramento, California May 11, 2009. (Max Whittaker/Courtesy Reuters)

Last week, Vang Pao, who led the Hmong forces in the “secret war” in Laos during the Vietnam conflict, passed away near his home in Fresno, California. Vang Pao was a complicated figure – a truly brave fighter whose men helped American forces significantly during the Vietnam War, and during his time in the United States after he emigrated to America, a leader of the Hmong community, which faced as many obstacles in adjusting to American society as any immigrant group ever has. But, especially later in his life, Vang Pao also became an extremely divisive figure within the Hmong community in the United States, as Hmong-Americans, like many émigré communities, fought within themselves over whether to keep a dream alive of returning to Laos, and as Vang Pao, wittingly or not, allowed himself to be used for all number of schemes.

I had a chance to interview Vang Pao several years ago, during Hmong New Year celebrations in St. Paul, Minnesota. You can find the article from the New Republic here (unfortunately for subscribers only).

Read more »

Thailand and Cambodia Compete to Throw Out Refugees

by Joshua Kurlantzick

News this week that the Thai government would begin forcibly repatriating some 4,000 Hmong back to Laos was greeted by condemnations from the UN, the United States, and various human rights organizations. With good reason: Laos has a poor record of human rights abuses against the Hmong, many of whom fought with the United States in the Vietnam War, and the Thai government admitted, even as it was forcing the Hmong back, that it feared for the safety of some in the group who were more overtly political. Read more »