11th suspect arrested in Laos overthrow plot; indictments handed down

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Friday, June 15, 2007

An 11th man was arrested yesterday by U.S. federal agents in Fresno, California, on charges connected to the plot by 10 other men to overthrow the government of Laos.

Later yesterday, the federal grand jury Sacramento handed down indictments for the 11 men, including former Royal Lao Army general and Hmong leader Vang Pao.

Dang Vang, 48, was arrested at his Fresno home in an early morning raid by agents from the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF.

Dang Vang, Vang Pao and the others are charged with violating the U.S. Neutrality Act, which outlaws using United States soil to conspire to overthrow a foreign government that has peaceful relations with the U.S.

"Federal law is without equivocation: you cannot conspire to overthrow a foreign government with whom our nation is at peace," U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott said in a statement to reporters.

According to the ATF, Dang Vang put the group's "action plan" to paper, summarizing its plot to blow up government buildings in Laos and assassinate government officials. The plot even had a name: "Operation Popcorn," or "Political Opposition Party's Coup Operation to Rescue a Nation."

A topographic map of Laos.

In addition to the 77-year-old Vang Pao and Dang Vang, 48, those charged are:

  • Harrison Jack, 60, a West Point graduate, retired California National Guard colonel and U.S. Army Ranger in the Vietnam War.
  • Lo Cha Thao, 34, of Clovis
  • Lo Thao, 53, of Sacramento
  • Youa True Vang, 60, of Fresno
  • Hue Vang, 39, of Fresno
  • Chong Vang Thao, 53, of Fresno
  • Seng Vue, 68, of Fresno
  • Chue Lo, 59, of Stockton
  • Nhia Kao Vang, 48, of Rancho Cordova, California

Most of the men indicted are prominent members of the Hmong immigrant community in California's Central Valley. They were arrested last week in a sting operation as the group was trying to purchase a rifles, missiles, rocket launchers, mines and explosives from an ATF agent posing as an arms dealer.

In an 88-page criminal complaint, federal prosecutors detailed the plot, which included airlifting the weapons to Thailand, and had an estimated cost of US$27.9 million. Funds for the operation were raised from donations by the Hmong community and other supporters of Vang Pao from across the U.S.

During the 1960s and '70s, Vang Pao led a covert army of Hmong people, backed by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, against communist forces in the Laotian Civil War, or "Secret War", which paralleled the U.S. war in Vietnam.

Since the communist takeover of Laos in 1975, according to a March 2007 report by Amnesty International, Hmong people in Laos have taken to hiding in the mountains, on the run from a government that persecutes them for their role in the war.

U.S.-Laos diplomatic relations were strengthened in 1992, and in 2004, President George W. Bush extended normal trade relations to the southeast Asian country.

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