CIA's secret war is revealed as Laos jails European journalists

International diplomatic efforts are under way to secure the release of two respected European journalists who were this week given 15-year prison sentences after setting out to explore a remarkable forgotten legacy of the CIA's covert operations in the Vietnam War.

The harsh sentences passed in Laos against the Belgian reporter Thierry Falise, 46, Vincent Reynaud, a 38-year-old French photographer, and their translator Naw Karl Mua - an American citizen - have outraged human rights activists and journalists.

But the affair has also proved counter-productive for the Lao authorities - who preside over one of the world's last surviving Communist regimes - by throwing a spotlight on a murky conflict that they prefer to deny exists.

The journalists, who entered the country on tourist visas, were researching the fate of ethnic Hmong who were hired by the CIA during the Vietnam War to fight on the side of the Americans against the Communists.

At the height of the conflict, more than 30,000 Hmong were engaged in what became known as America's "secret war" against the North Vietnamese and Communist Pathet Lao. Small pockets of them - hiding in the jungle and mountains of the north - have continued fighting; it appears they are still waiting for the Americans to come to their aid.

In the last five months, reports from Xaysomboune militarised zone - the jungle- bound northern area where they operate - suggest that they have carried out at least three attacks on buses, killing more than 30 people.

Several years ago the Lao government began a fresh military drive to flush the Hmong fighters out and eradicate them. According to Grant Evans, an expert on Laos, the conflict is no longer driven by ideology, but rather is fuelled by rivalry and tit-for-tat attacks involving the insurgents and local army commanders.

The few people who have managed to reach the Hmong have returned with accounts of a desperate rag-tag band of fighters, living on yams, tree roots and wild potatoes, and equipped with the same guns that they used in the 1960s and 1970s.

Supported by Hmong exiles in the US, the guerrillas, who number several thousand, are thought mostly to comprise the children and relatives of the CIA's original secret army.

In December 2001, three Americans, led by a retired Los Angeles detective, went to the area to try to gather information about their fate. They belong to a California-based organisation called the Fact-Finding Commission, which is pressing the US government to negotiate safe passage for the beleaguered fighters, to repay their loyalty. But they say there has been no sign of interest from Washington.

The three subsequently presented a report to the US Congress which said: "When the United States pulled out of the war in Vietnam and left South-east Asia [in 1975], we left the Hmong, Mien, Khamu, and Lao soldiers who fought in the CIA-sponsored Secret Army of Laos to fend for themselves."

The report alleged that Lao and Vietnamese forces were "systematically exterminating" them, and warned that "without immediate intervention" there was "little hope" for these people.

The Fact-Finding Commission drew a harrowing picture of an ill-armed and tattered force, moving steathily around the mountains and facing starvation, not least because of dwindling supplies of yams.

"For 26 years these people have lived in the jungle holding on to the hope that their American allies would come to their rescue," the report stated. It said this was their first contact with Americans for more than a quarter of a century.

Two Time magazine journalists managed to reach the guerrillas earlier this year, and returned with pictures of emaciated fighters, weeping and begging on their knees for their help.

The Lao government denies the existence of the insurgent army, blaming the sporadic attacks on civilians and skirmishes with troops on "bandits".

Analysts say that Laos has recently been working to improve relations with the nation's Hmong minority, of whom the fighters are a tiny part.

But it is clearly a hugely sensitive issue for the Communist government, as the two journalists and their translator discovered.

Discussions between the Lao government, and US, French and Belgian officials are under way, amid hopeful signs that the correspondents - officially convicted on charges of being involved in the death of a village security guard - may soon return to tell their story.

Laos's Foreign Minister has said that they may soon be freed if their governments petition to have their sentences commuted. And its ambassador to France has also said that they would be free "within a matter of days".

The European Parliament on Friday adopted a resolution calling for the immediate release of the two European journalists and condemning the deterioration of the human rights situation in Laos.

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home