|Bars and restaurants in Vang Vieng. The war is over here. Or is it??|
It’s after 1am, and I’m sitting in a bar in Vang Vieng, Laos. The explosions I just heard are from far off in the night. There's a lot of background noise in the bar, but there's no mistaking what I just heard. Those blasts weren’t thunder, and they weren’t fireworks. They're from something far more sinister, probably artillery. At least eight explosions went off close together. It sounded like they detonated in the mountains to the east.
I ask the Laotian bartender across the bar from me, “What was that??”
He heard the explosions too, but he’s silent. I saw him speaking English earlier tonight, but now he won’t answer me.
|Old explosives and weapons from fighting by the Hmong against the communists|
Not giving up, I press him further, “Is that from problems with the Hmong?” Fighting between the Hmong and the communists began decades ago during the Vietnam War. The outside world hasn't heard about it for years, but there are still rumors of occasional ambushes in the remote mountains of Laos.
Continuing to hold his tongue, the bartender's face is blank. Then he turns, and walks away. If he knows anything, he’s not about to tell me.
I manage to see someone else here that's in a more talkative mood. Further down the bar, I approach an expat westerner. He has lived in Vang Vieng for a while now. Mentioning the explosions, I ask him if there is still conflict in the area between the government forces and Hmong fighters.
“Yeah, it still goes on,” he informs me. “It’s never really stopped.”
So it’s true, there is still fighting in the mountains! This is news almost unheard of. Now I've heard bombing myself, and this expat just confirmed that resistance continues. Hmong groups had been surrendering the past few years, but nobody saied that fighting was still going on. Sadly, the communist war against the Hmong people never ended completely. Despite government denials, there are still army attacks against Hmong hold outs in the mountains. For America, the Vietnam War ended in 1973. For America's ally the Hmong, the war never really ended.
“Just a few years ago there were bombings at a couple bars on the island,” the westerner tells me. “The government keeps it very quiet."
|There is still sporadic fighting targeting Hmong hold outs in remote northern mountains|
“I’m really drunk, and stoned,” he admits. “I shouldn’t be talking about this.” Then he motions to the Laotian bar staff. “They’ll hear me.”
He’s afraid someone will tell the police that he’s talking about the unrest. I don't think he would get arrested; he’s no human rights activist. But as a foreigner living in Laos, he’s worried that if he’s caught blabbering, the government will deny his next visa renewal.
In recent years, a gutsy photo journalist found a group of Hmong guerrillas still fighting the communists near Vang Vieng. The holdout community had survived an attack where 26 of their family members had been massacred. His astounding photo gallery can be viewed here:
"LAOS: Still a Secret War"
In other parts of Laos between 2000 - 2004, there were also a number of other isolated terrorist bombings. Vientiane and a few other cities were targeted. At least one Lao was killed, with many others injured. Responsibility for the bombings was claimed by a group calling itself, “The Free Democratic Government Committee of the Lao People”. This 'committee' is most likely a separate group of anti-government Lao exiles, that are unconnected to the Hmong.
There haven’t been any reported bombings in Laos since, and tourism here continues to rise. Still, I can’t help but wonder. If the Laotian government continues on its unbending course of one party rule, and continues to pursue the Hmong hold outs in the mountains, will it be long before there are more violent incidents that spill over into the cities?