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Hmong tribesmen surrender in Laos

BANGKOK -- A lingering legacy of the Vietnam War emerged from the jungles of Laos yesterday, as hundreds of members of the Hmong hill tribe minority surrendered to the communist government after decades on the run.

The group is the latest of several ragtag bands of surrendering Hmong -- remnants of a guerrilla army that served a pro-American government before it fell to the communists in 1975.

The surrendering group's chieftain, Moua Tua Ter, accompanied the 405 people -- mostly children -- to Ban Ha village in Phoukout district before returning to the jungle with a few of his guerrillas, US-based Fact Finding Commission said in an e-mail.

The group appeared to be "very hungry and tired," it said. The villagers served them rice and pork.

The newcomers became nervous and the mood turned sour when 50 Lao government soldiers who showed up a few hours after the surrender separated the Hmong from the villagers. The Hmong were loaded onto five military trucks to be taken to an army camp in the district capital.

Although the Hmong served loyally in what was called the CIA's "Secret War" in Laos -- Washington did not officially acknowledge its military presence there at the time -- they were all but abandoned after their communist enemies, the North Vietnamese-backed Pathet Lao, came to power.

More than 300,000 Laotian refugees, mostly Hmong, fled after the takeover, with many resettling in the United States. Thousands stayed behind, some adjusting to the new regime and others staying in the jungle, where they faced sweeps by government soldiers.

Thousands more Hmong are believed still in the jungle.

Details of the surrender were provided by the Fact Finding Commission, which lobbies on behalf of the Hmong and is in touch with them through satellite telephones. Though news of the surrender could not immediately be independently verified, information provided in the past by the commission has proved to be accurate.

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