Lao People’s Democratic Republic’s National Day, December 2nd 2010
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
November 30, 2010
On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, I congratulate the people of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic on your National Day on December 2.
This year, the United States and Laos marked 55 years of diplomatic relations, and I was honored to welcome Deputy Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith to Washington in July for the most senior-level visit from Laos since 1975. Laos has made notable political, social, and economic progress in recent years, and our two countries have done a great deal to strengthen our bilateral relationship. From signing a landmark Open Skies Agreement that facilitates international travel, to increasing military-to-military cooperation, to collaborating in the fight against pandemic diseases, the United States is committed to working with Laos in areas of mutual interest. We will continue working together to reduce the impact of unexploded ordnance from previous conflicts, address education and environmental challenges in the Lower Mekong region, and promote sustainable economic development. As part of these endeavors, we support the Lao Government’s efforts to join the World Trade Organization and to fully implement our Bilateral Trade Agreement.
On this festive occasion, I wish all Lao people a happy celebration with peace and prosperity in the coming year.
SENG LY and his wife, My Thao, share lunch at Valley American Asian Foods, a store they own on Elsie Street in Appleton. Seng Ly's alliance with U.S. military troops during combat missions in Vietnam eventually led his family to flee to the United States. (Post-Crescent photo by Sharon Cekada)
APPLETON — Hmong army Maj. Lo Lee’s instructions were crystal clear.
Fight the communist North Vietnamese army in Laos. Stop enemy soldiers and supplies from using the Ho Chi Minh Trail and, most urgently, rescue any U.S. pilot blown out of the sky over Laos.
“When an American pilot was shot down, our instructions were to get that pilot out no matter what the cost. Even if five or 10 Hmong soldiers died, we were never to give up,” said Lee, who four decades later is leader of the Hmong-American Partnership in Appleton.
Some 20,000 Hmong soldiers were killed during more than a decade of fighting as part of the war the U.S. secretly waged in their homeland of Laos during the Vietnam War era. After the war ended, thousands more Hmong were killed at the hands of the communist Laotian government. Still thousands more were forced to flee, never to return.
Even so many years later, their dedication is fueling a push in Congress to allow Hmong veterans to be buried in national cemeteries. Twenty-three representatives, including four from Wisconsin, are sponsoring a bill to extend the burial benefit now reserved mostly for U.S. military personnel.
The proposal, which awaited action in a subcommittee as federal lawmakers returned to work this past week, underscores the often forgotten sacrifice made by a far-away people who, through war, became inextricably linked to places like Appleton, Menasha and Neenah.
“Our Hmong veterans fought shoulder to shoulder with American soldiers during the Vietnam War. Our nation owes a debt of gratitude to these patriotic individuals, and their service should be honored with burial benefits in our national cemeteries,” U.S. Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., author of the bill, said in July when he introduced it.
Costa estimates that about 6,900 Hmong veterans would be eligible for the benefits. The Department of Veterans Affairs would have to verify their service.
The federal government operates 131 national veterans cemeteries in 39 states, including one in Wisconsin. Also, state officials say the federal change automatically would open up Wisconsin’s three state veterans cemeteries to Hmong soldiers if they are state residents when they die.
That would suit Lee.
“It would be a matter of pride, privilege and honor for Hmong veterans to be buried alongside their colleague soldiers from the United States…,” he said.
State cemetery option
Wisconsin rules that block burial of Hmong veterans in state cemeteries automatically would change to match federal law if Congress approved the bill, said Mark Mathwig, director of the Bureau of Cemeteries for the state Department of Veterans Affairs.
“Everything that applies to national cemeteries applies to state veterans cemeteries,” Mathwig said, noting one additional state rule requires veterans seeking burial in state cemeteries to be Wisconsin residents when they die.
Wisconsin’s only national cemetery, the Wood National Cemetery, located on the grounds of the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center in the community of Wood near Milwaukee, has no room for new burials. But, all three state-run cemeteries have available space, Mathwig said.
Although it sounds simple enough, there could be a catch.
Because of the secret nature of the war in Laos, Hmong veterans were not provided the discharge papers given to U.S. military members when the war ended for them.
That paperwork traditionally is required as proof of military service when applying for veterans benefits, said Jon Li Donne, veterans service officer for Waupaca County.
“The question is, seeing (as) the Hmong weren’t American citizens when the CIA bought them, they may not be recognized as veterans because they (Congress) would have to give them full veterans benefits,” Meidam said.
But Costa’s bill narrowly defines its intent as interment in national cemeteries without any provisions for extending additional benefits.
A similar benefit was previously accorded to members of the Philippine military who aided the United States during World War II.
U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen, D-Appleton, said Hmong soldiers deserve the burial benefit and he hopes Congress acts soon on the bill.
“Our comrades in arms, the brave Hmong who fought with us in Vietnam, also deserve to be interred in our national cemeteries…,” Kagen said.
‘We relied on each other’
Lee’s role in the war primarily was to assess the needs of surviving relatives of the dead soldiers.
“I would travel from region to region to gather data. It was a very difficult thing,” Lee said. “There were so many families where the father was killed, leaving several children in the 6-to-7-year-old range and just the wife to take care of them.”
“Imagine what it must have been like to figure out how to feed all those children. It was terrible,” Lee said.
Sometimes an elderly Hmong couple would lose their only son to the war — a son who had taken care of them.
“That was a horrible memory for those older people. They would cry and cry. I saw many people in that situation,” Lee said.
Lee said it wasn’t a difficult decision for the Hmong to help the Americans.
“Our people had been living with communism and didn’t like the system. The Americans came, and America was a superpower that had a good chance to win the war.”
American veterans of the Vietnam War also want to see their Hmong comrades honored with the burial benefit.
“I don’t think most (Vietnam veterans) would have a problem with the Hmong being buried in national and state veterans cemeteries. They (Hmong) did a lot to help the U.S. out in the war,” said Leon Meidam, a member of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 351 in the Fox Cities.
Meidam served two tours of duty in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne Division in 1970 and 1971, first in a ground reconnaissance unit and then as a crew member flying small helicopters to either to fire directly on enemy soldiers or to search out targets for bombing missions by other pilots.
“The Hmong paid quite a price for helping the United States and got a lot of (downed American pilots) out of Laos,” Meidam said. “A lot of people don’t know what they did.”
Lee doesn’t know what made the relationship between the Hmong and Americans so strong.
“But you could see in the eyes and faces of the American soldiers that they trusted us and wanted to help us so much,” he said. “We relied on each other so much.”
Steve Wideman: 920-993-1000, ext. 302, or firstname.lastname@example.org
By Supalak Ganjanakhundee
Published on November 25, 2010
Raising King Anouvong’s statue in the Laotian capital Vientiane could either be seen as a direct challenge to Thailand’s superior status or a strong message calling on its citizens to be brave and its ruling regime to stand firm in the face of dominance from all directions.
It is interesting that the Marxist-Leninist regime chose to use ancient kings instead of communist icons and contemporary heroes for its state-building endeavour. This could possibly be because the Laotians worship kingly spirits – they would never bow to a commoner.
Before King Anouvong, Laotian authorities put up King Fa Ngum’s statue in January 2003 as a memorial to the great unifier of the Lan Xang Kingdom in the 14th century.
Statues of old kings are not new to Vientiane. There’s already one of King Xetthathirat, who moved the capital city from Luang Prabang to Vientiane 450 years ago, and King Sisavang Vong, who played a part in the country gaining independence from the French.
The newest statue of King Anouvong, meanwhile, tells the story of a brave struggle against Siamese conquerors during his reign from 1805 to 1828.
King Anouvong took the throne when the Lan Xang kingdom was a part of the Siamese kingdom and he decided to shake off the yoke when, on a visit to Bangkok, he saw the harshness meted out to Lao prisoners. History has it that he personally was treated badly while attending King Rama II’s funeral.
Though he lost the battle against Siam, King Anouvong became a national hero and legend for the Lao people, even though in the Thai point of view, he was a mere rebel. The Siamese army ransacked the Lao capital, causing the downfall of the Lan Xang kingdom.
The ruling Lao People’s Revolutionary Party put up the statue as a memorial to the great king 182 years later and to mark the capital city’s 450 years.
The 8-metre statue faces the west, gazing across the mekong River at Thailand. His left hand holds up a sword, as his right hand points forward.
The Laotian government explained that the statue is meant to look like the king is mobilising his troops, but the costume is that of peaceful times. The king’s belt features the Naga, which is a Buddhist symbol of peace.
Government officials said the statue depicted King Anouvong as a brave king who never surrendered to Siamese dominance and is meant to remind the citizens that the country needs a leader like him.
Laos is a tiny country surrounded by big ones – Thailand is in the west, Vietnam in the east and the giant China in the north.
A balance of power among the major powerhouses is the only key for its survival.
These days, China is pouring a lot of resources into Laos in terms of grants, financial aid, soft loans and investment. It is difficult to resist an influx of Chinese people and cultural influence into Laos.
Meanwhile, Vietnam’s influence over the ruling party is also difficult to resist because they share a common history of struggling for independence. As for Thailand, it is practically a blood brother and has influenced Laos economically, socially and culturally for a long time.
Let’s hope that King Anouvong helps the brave Laotians protect their tiny nation from being taken over by others.
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of the committee responsible for the casting of the King Anouvong statue. Standing Deputy Prime Minister Somsavat Lengsavad, who led the meeting, … www.laoembassy.com/
BANGKOK, Nov 27 (Bernama) — A high-speed train project, a planned joint investment project between Thailand and China, which will link between the Thai capital and Nong Khai province bordering Laos is expected to be completed in late 2015, Thai News Agency (TNA) quoted Supoj Saplom, permanent secretary for Thai Transport Ministry, as saying.
Supoj said after a meeting of the working committee on Friday that the meeting had discussed on preparing a draft of memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the joint venture project. The draft is expected to be ready in early January next year and forward to the cabinet for its consideration later the same month before it is submitted to the parliament for its consideration and approval in February.
The parliamentary process is expected to be completed in March while construction could start in 2011 and furnished in late 2015, Supoj said.
Initially, the Beijing investment on the project between the two countries will be on a 50-50 per cent basis while the Thai finance ministry is responsible on investment details of the project.
Two more senior Thai officials — one from Finance Ministry and the other from Foreign Affairs Ministry — have been appointed to join the working committee as the entire process involves a joint investment between the two countries.
Distance between Bangkok and Nong Khai is about 640 kilometres. Previously, the scheme involved on constructing a high-speed train with dual rail track at construction costs estimated at Bt180 billion. But the costs could be lower between 20-30 per cent after the system is switched to a standard gate high-speed train system. Upon completion, the rail system could lower goods transportation costs as well as boosting tourism between Thailand and Laos.
Thailand’s joint parliamentary meeting on Oct 26 has approved a proposed draft framework of Thailand-China negotiations to construct a high-speed train system in Thailand.
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva met his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao on Nov 12 and the latter agreed to speed up negotiations to construct a high-speed train system in Thailand.
The Chinese premier said the discussion should begin with the details of the routes and format of joint investment, according to Abhisit.
Laos has shelved plans to build a railway to connect its capital with Nong Khai to avoid duplication with a proposed high-speed train project from China to Thailand that would pass through Laos.
Permanent secretary for transport Supoj Saplom was informed by representatives of the Lao Ministry of Public Works and Transport yesterday of the cancellation of the planned 1.65 billion baht project to lay a nine-kilometre-long track from the Tha Naleng railway station on the Laos side of the border to Vientiane.
The track currently crosses into Laos from Nong Khai over the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge and terminates at Tha Naleng station.
Mr Supoj said Lao authorities determined the project would be redundant given the planned high-speed train project which would link Thailand and China via Laos.
Tha Naleng station will be developed into a cargo yard to service that proposed joint venture, which would have trains travelling at an average speed of 250km/h.
The shelved project was to have been a Thai-Lao joint venture, with a Thai grant covering 30% of its cost and a Thai soft loan taking care of the rest.
However, Lao and Thai transport authorities did agree to build a new bridge next to the friendship bridge across the Mekong River to support trains.
Currently road traffic on the friendship bridge must be halted for two hours when a train crosses the river, which it does twice daily. Thailand will hire a contractor to design the new bridge and both countries will form a joint committee to consider the design and where the bridge will be constructed on the respective countries’ soil.
The Lao and Thai governments have yet to determine how the new bridge will be financed.
Also discussed at yesterday’s meeting was cooperation on a new tourism-oriented bus service from Thailand to Vietnam via Laos.
Thailand and Vietnam are eager to begin the new service, but Laos has been hesitant.
The meeting concluded that the three countries should form a committee to pave the way for transnational road transport.
Officials will need to iron out the type of buses to be used in the project. Thailand prefers 24-seater coaches, while Laos wants 32-seater buses to keep fares affordable.
Mr Supoj suggested that both types of buses be offered.
He added that representatives of Thai Airways International (THAI) and Lao Airlines would discuss alternatives after the Lao Civil Aviation Department rejected an agreement between the airlines to increase the number of seats on flights between the two countries from 2,100 to 2,772 a week.
THAI already sold its tickets last month based on the 2,772-seat figure, so the Laos government’s rejection of the agreement could have a serious impact on the company.
Mr Supoj said Laos wanted to promote its airline, which has a 23% market share compared to THAI’s 77%.
THAI wanted to increase the number of weekly seats allowed because it was replacing its Boeing aircraft with larger Airbuses.
By Amy Anthony, Times Correspondent
In Print: Saturday, November 27, 2010
Huy Truong, seen here as a boy with his parents and cousin at the family’s coffee shop in Ho Chi Minh City, moved to the United States in 1993 and graduated from Gulf High School.”]As a teenager, Huy Truong remembers checking every piece of mail that arrived, hoping for good news from the U.S. Embassy.
His family had scraped by since the end of the Vietnam War, when Truong’s father was shipped off to a “reeducation camp” because he had worked with the American forces. The father returned a decade later, and the family opened a coffee shop in Ho Chi Minh City — a challenging business to sustain in a communist country that rationed sugar.
His parents knew Truong and his brother had limited futures in Vietnam. In order to attend college, students must pass a rigorous exam similar to the SAT — but part of the points needed to pass are based on the student’s family background.
“If a student’s family members fought on the American side during the war, a student needed more points to pass,” Truong said.
So when the family had the chance to apply to immigrate to the United States in 1991, they eagerly began the application process that would involve interviews, medical exams and years of waiting for that letter from the U.S. Embassy.
“We were very excited,” Truong said. “My parents knew it would be an opportunity for my brother and me.”
And in 1993, opportunity brought the family to Pasco County.
Huy Truong, his wife, Thuyha Pham, and their daughter, Kaitlyn Truong now live in Orlando.”]• • •
Truong was 19 when the family moved to the United States, joining an uncle in Holiday. Their journey to Tampa International Airport took them through Bangkok and New York City.
“It was my first time seeing the modernized world,” Truong recalled of his layover in Bangkok. “It was my first time seeing sliding doors. I walked back and forth for I don’t know how long until a security guard told me to leave the door alone.”
After five months in Holiday, the family got their own place in New Port Richey. Truong got a job as a dishwasher at Leverock’s seafood restaurant. Although he could not speak or read English very well, Truong had always been good at math and he tested into the 11th grade. He graduated from Gulf High School after taking summer classes and working with a guidance counselor to transfer course credits from Vietnam.
He enrolled at St. Petersburg College to improve his English skills, then was accepted to the University of South Florida, where he majored in computer engineering because he “fell in love with computers.”
“I wanted to be a mathematician, but then I took summer classes and a classmate who was very kind taught me how to use computers,” Truong said.
He graduated from USF in August 1998 with a 3.96 GPA — “one B,” Truong lamented with a laugh.
That fall he went to a career fair and left his resume with a representative from Lockheed Martin. The company called back the next day.
“I guess my GPA impressed them,” he joked.
• • •
Lockheed Martin hired Truong as a software engineer for its Orlando office, where his work ethic inspired his colleagues.
“He impressed us from the first day,” said Debra Palmer, vice president of enterprise logistics solutions at Lockheed Martin. “His energy level is infectious.”
Within his first year, Truong was nominated for the Galaxy Award, Lockheed Martin’s most prestigious honor.
“There was a fancy (awards) dinner at Disney,” Palmer recalled. “I was there waiting for Huy, and finally he came in, buttoning his shirt. When I asked where he was, he said he couldn’t leave work because there was an important test.
“This is a perfect example of Huy,” she said. “He took his tuxedo with him to the lab.”
Truong won the award that night.
• • •
Now 36, Truong lives in Orlando and is still at Lockheed Martin, working on the classified Cyber Test Range Program, a virtual network that researchers will use to test and improve the security of computer systems. He hopes to someday teach community college, recalling how formative that time was for him as a student.
“Coming to the U.S. has allowed me to pursue my goals,” Truong said, “and I want to help others pursue theirs.”
In 2000, Truong was selected to work on his first classified program, a position that required him to become a U.S. citizen. Truong was excited at the prospect. His colleagues were excited, too.
“The day I told Deb (Palmer) about my citizenship, she came to the lab with about 20 people,” Truong said. “They had a giant cake and it was a big celebration. It means so much to me that my citizenship means so much to others.”
His high school sweetheart in Vietnam, Thuyha Pham, also joined him in America.
The couple had remained in touch over the years, and after he graduated from college, Truong returned to Vietnam to visit her.
“I arrived around 11 p.m. and I went to see her first thing,” Truong recalled. “She was surprised and crying. I knew at that moment I wanted to marry her and that nobody else would love me as much as she did.”
The couple wed in 1999 and had their daughter, Kaitlyn, two months ago.
And because his little girl will grow up in America, Truong said, “I know she will have a better life.”
[Last modified: Nov 26, 2010 09:03 PM]
Vientiane – A Lao-European hydropower company has allocated 34 million dollars to relocate 700 families affected by its dam site in south-eastern Laos, media reports said Wednesday.
Theun-Hinboun Power Company has already resettled 410 families from seven villages near its dam site on the Gnouang River in Khammouane province, south-east Laos, the Vientiane Times reported.
‘We will start resettlement of the remaining five villages (313 families) by February and will finish in April or May,’ said Surapha Viravong, deputy site manager of the project’s social and environmental division.
The 34 million dollars will be spent on house construction and land clearance for farming for the relocated families, in line with an agreement made between the investors and the government.
Laos, a mountainous, land-locked country that is rich in water resources, has already built 14 hydro-electric dams and plans to construct another 20 by the year 2020.
The dams pose serious threats to the environment and people’s livelihoods, forcing projects to include compensation clauses and assure sustainable practices in their agreements with the Lao government.
Theun-Hinboun, which already has one hydropower plant in Borikhamxay province, is building an expansion project in Khammouane.
The Khammouane plant, which is 50 per cent complete, will begin commercial operation in July 2012.
The company is 60-per-cent owned by the state-run Electricite du Laos, with Norway’s Statkraft SF and GMS Lao holding 20 per cent each.
Lao war veterans held a cultural exchange with more than 721 former Vietnamese volunteer soldiers on November 26 to mark the 35th anniversary of the country’s independence and the 450th anniversary of Vientiane.
A large number of overseas Vietnamese and representatives from the Vietnamese Community in Laos, the Vietnamese embassy and various agencies and Lao organisations participated in the meeting.
The Vietnamese Ambassador to Laos, Ta Minh Chau expressed his gratitude to the Lao people for their sacrifices, courage and determination that has strengthened the special traditional relationship between the two countries.
The delegation also presented 20 gifts to the families of beneficiaries and visited many historical, relic sites in Laos and the place where the late President Ho Chi Minh lived and worked in Thailand.
This was the first pilgrimage by of the Vietnamese volunteer soldiers to revisit their former battlefields in Laos, and was supported by thousands of people in both countries. A second will take place later from December 19-26.
Before leaving for Laos, the delegation lit incense and made offerings at the Hanoi Monument for Fallen Soldiers, visited the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and donated VND50 million and 2 tonnes of goods to flood victims in the central region.