Revolution in Laos?

Small-scale fighting taking place in Laos - AFP, July 14, 2003

Small-scale fighting is taking place in Laos, Vietnamese military sources said, a day after a US-based Lao exile group claimed that pro-democracy forces had begun a "revolution" to overthrow the communist regime.

A military official in Hanoi said skirmishes had broken out in some regions in Laos, adding that the situation was "tense but under control".

"We have information that there has been low key fighting in Laos over the past couple of days," he said requesting anonymity.

The official declined to reveal any more details nor say if Vietnamese troops had been sent to help their Lao allies.

His comments followed claims by the Fact Finding Commission (FFC) that the Lao Citizens Movement for Democracy, which is made up of resistance groups, local militias and army defectors, had begun an uprising on Saturday.

The group, which is based in California, said Lao military forces, backed by Vietnamese troops, had been engaged in fighting across 11 provinces in the impoverished country.

Vietnam maintained an official military presence in Laos until 1989 and continues to exert considerable influence over its fellow communist neighbour.

Hanoi, however, has repeatedly denied that its troops have subsequently been active in the country helping the Lao military eliminate the remnants of a US-sponsored secret army left over from the Vietnam War.

The Lao foreign ministry on Saturday denied there had been any clashes, while diplomats in rumour-ridden Vientiane said Sunday they had still not received any reports of fighting.

"I would be highly sceptical of these claims and would feel they are over exaggerated," said Carl Thayer, a Southeast Asia expert at the Australian Defence Force Academy.

"There is a basis for anti-regime activity in Laos but they have always been extremely low-key and easily suppressed. But if the reports have any grain of truth one would expect Laos to turn immediately to Vietnam for assistance and Vietnam would respond positively but quietly."

Sumbun Saiyavoo, an FFC researcher based in Bangkok, said that he was informed of the uprising by former Royal Lao Army officer Kham Koie Sanasery, who is reportedly heading the pro-democracy forces.

The commencement of the fighting followed Wednesday's release from a month in detention of two European journalists and their American translator.

They were arrested on June 4 in the north after sneaking into the country on tourist visas to research a story on the remnants of a secret army created by the US Central Intelligence Agency during the Vietnam War.

It also came after a handful of deadly attacks on passenger buses this year that the Government has blamed on "bandits" but which diplomats believe were the work of anti-government forces seeking international attention.


Factfinding.org - Website of one of the groups involved in the uprising (the website is apparently run by Georgie Szendrey, a California-based activist for Lao and Hmong rights)

Vientianetimes.com also has various articles on the uprising.
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