|View through window of the tragic bridge shooting site|
As we cross the old bridge I hear an unexpectedly loud racket beneath our vehicle. It’s the rude sound of clanking metal. The weight of the bus is coming down on each of the crossing’s heavy modular panels, sided with creaking criss-crossed rails. Rather than the huge modern 'Friendship Bridge' that crosses the Mekong River, this structure is built more from an old military style.
The way across is only a single lane bridge. This may pass for a highway crossing in Laos, but with only one lane this bridge is prone to congestion, which backs up traffic as vehicles wait their turn to cross.
In 1975 this bridge was the scene of congestion of a different kind: fleeing refugees! As they descended from the mountains, this narrow bridge became the scene of an atrocity wrought on the minority Hmong people.
|Hmong in traditional dress (Source: Wikipedia)|
That year, the Pathet Lao communists and their North Vietnamese allies unleashed a major campaign of violent retribution against the Hmong, as punishment for their siding with the Americans and the Royal Laotian Government during the war. Hungry and fearing for their lives, the survivors were fleeing the fighting to the north. An exodus of more than 20,000 Hmong civilians flooded this road south towards Vientiane.
As they reached this bridge in Hinh Heup, Pathet Lao soldiers blocked their way. Despite their desperate situation, they would not allow the refugee families to cross the bridge to flee to safer regions!
The Hmong were ordered to return to their homes in the north. With many of their houses already destroyed, the Hmong didn’t have homes left to return to. Desperate with nowhere to go, and with nothing left to lose, the refugees rushed the bridge on May 29th.
The soldiers opened fire. At least five Hmong civilians were shot dead, and dozens were wounded. Rather than returning north, the survivors scattered. Many fled to Thailand by other routes.
As I listen to the banging of the loose steel panels while we drive across the bridge, I look out across the water. Just a couple hundred yards upriver, I can see work underway on a modern two lane bridge, built by a Japanese construction company.
We reach the far side of the river, and as we drive on I look back to where we have just passed. There is no memorial here at the old bridge, to mark where the massacre happened. Since a new bridge is being built, this old bridge where this atrocity took place may soon be gone as well.
|The rutted highway through Hinh Heup|
There may not be a memorial here, marking the site where the civilians were killed that sad day.
There may always be official denials by the government of Laos, saying that the shootings here on this bridge never happened.
But the Hmong will always remember.