Archive for February 5th, 2011

February 5, 2011

US welcomes any step that moves Egypt towards democracy


6 Feb, 2011, 01.05AM IST,PTI

WASHINGTON: Welcoming any step that moves Egypt, which is the middle of a political unrest, towards transition to democracy , the White House today said that it is for the Egyptians to decide how this transition occurs.

“As the President has repeatedly said, Egyptians will be the ones that decide how this transition occurs. We welcome any step that provides credibility to that process,” said Tommy Vietor Spokesman, National Security Council, White House.

The White House statement came amidst reports that Gamal Mubarak, the head of the National Democratic Party and son of embattled President Hosni Mubarak has resigned.

“We view this as a positive step towards the political change that will be necessary, and look forward to additional steps,” a senior Administration official said when asked about the latest development coming from Egypt.

Later in the day, Obama was scheduled to receive a briefing on the situation from his senior national security staff on the unfolding developments in Egypt.

Earlier in the morning, the Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough convened a Deputies Committee meeting on Egypt.

Yesterday, Obama had hoped that the Egyptian President would be able to make right decision.

“In order for Egypt to have a bright future, which I believe it can have, the only thing that will work is moving a orderly transition process that begins right now that engages all the parties, that leads to democratic practices, fair and free elections, and representative government that is responsive to the grievances of the Egyptian people,” he said.

“Once the (Egyptian) President himself announced that he was not going to be running again, and since his term is up relatively shortly, the key question he should be asking himself is, how do I leave a legacy behind in which Egypt is able to get through this transformative period? My hope is that he will end up making the right decision,” Obama said responding to reporters question on Egypt at a joint White House news conference with the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper.

Mubarak’s men key to US reform hopes in Egypt

Seattle Post Intelligencer


FILE - In this April 22, 2009, file photo Egypt's intelligence chief Omar Suleiman is in Jerusalem for a first high-level meeting between an Egyptian official and Israel's new hard-line government. A week of American telephone diplomacy with a small group of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's closest advisers is key to a U.S. hoped-for transition towards democracy in Egypt, where smothered political opposition leaves no clear alternative to the U.S. for a bargaining partner. Vice President Joe Biden spoke to Suleiman, now 74, who became vice president on Jan. 29, 2011. (AP Photo/Tara Todras-Whitehill, File)

WASHINGTON — Seeking reform in Egypt, the U.S. increasingly is counting on a small cadre of President Hosni Mubarak’s closest advisers to guide a hoped-for transition from autocracy to democracy.

It’s a plan that relies on long relationships with military men and bureaucrats who owe their professional success to Mubarak’s iron rule. To the regret of some U.S. diplomats, it’s also a plan that steers around the Muslim Brotherhood, the powerful Islamist political movement that almost surely would play a central role in any future popularly chosen government.

Not that Washington has much choice.

Mubarak has so smothered potential political opposition that there is no clear alternative for the U.S. as a bargaining partner, even if dealing with aging Mubarak stalwarts reduces U.S. credibility with Egyptians fed up with the Mubarak era.

The Obama administration’s telephone diplomacy this past week was indicative of the American strategy to keep Egypt from tearing itself apart.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden spoke to Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s 74-year-old intelligence chief who became vice president last week. Defense Secretary Robert Gates chatted with his 85-year-old counterpart, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi. Joint Chiefs chairman Adm. Mike Mullen discussed the situation with Egypt’s top military official, Lt. Gen. Sami Anan, 62. Another key figure is Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, a 69-year-old former Air Force chief.

U.S. diplomatic cables released by the WikiLeaks website encapsulate part of the problem with trusting these men to be the head ushers of democratic and economic change.

Beyond the generational split with young protesters disgruntled by years of harsh unemployment, inequality and political repression, the Mubarak men belong to a military elite whose wealth and power are inextricably linked to the 82-year-old president.

“Egypt’s military is in decline,” a 2008 U.S. cable says, summarizing a series of conversations with academics and analysts. The memo cites a professor in Egypt as saying “the sole criteria for promotion is loyalty and the … leadership does not hesitate to fire officers it perceives as being `too competent’ and who therefore potentially pose a threat to the regime.”

Yet the military’s authority remains strong and its interests in Egypt vast. Mubarak built an army of almost a half-million men that holds large stakes in the water, olive oil, cement, construction, hotel and gasoline industries.

A diplomatic cable also describes large land holdings of the military along the Nile Delta and the Red Sea, and suggests that the top brass would not be served by important change toward democracy and freer markets.

Most analysts agree that the military “generally opposes economic reforms,” according to the U.S. diplomatic correspondence.

The exchanges describe an Egypt ripe for political unrest. A 2007 note from the U.S. ambassador at time, Francis J. Ricciardone, said Mubarak’s “reluctance to lead more boldly” was hurting his effectiveness.

Ricciardone singled out Egypt’s elite 40,000-member counterterror police as he described a “culture of impunity.” The ambassador noted that the Egyptian government shut down a human rights group that had helped the family of a detainee killed in 2003. The officers were exonerated of torture and murder charges.

The cables also provide glimpses of the difficult environment for Egypt’s bloggers and journalists. During protests in Cairo this past week, pro-government mobs beat, threatened and intimidated reporters attempting to inform the world of the unfolding events in the country.

In one cable, an Egyptian blogger complained to the U.S. Embassy after YouTube and Google removed videos from his blog apparently showing a Bedouin shot by Egyptian police and thrown on a garbage dump, and another one of a woman being tortured in a police station.

The cables contain mixed assessments of some of those being counted on to lead Egypt’s transition after six decades when the country’s four presidents all came from the officer corps.

Suleiman, referred to as the “Mubarak consigliere,” comes out better than others. He is described as disappointed as far back as 2007 that he had yet to be named vice president. Yet on first glance, he seems an ideal candidate to guide Egypt through an unstable period.

At a time when Mubarak’s son Gamal was being promoted as a future president, a U.S. cable says Suleiman “would at the least have to figure in any succession scenario.”

“He could be attractive to the ruling apparatus and the public at large as a reliable figure unlikely to harbor ambitions for another multi-decade presidency,” according to the cable.

But it is unclear what that will mean now as thousands of Egyptians demand Mubarak’s immediate resignation.

There’s little indication Suleiman will show his longtime boss the door, even if Obama administration officials are discussing options that include having Mubarak step aside now for a transitional government headed by Suleiman.

“His loyalty to Mubarak seems rock-solid,” a cable written four years ago concludes.

Under one proposal, Mubarak would hand his powers to his vice president, though not his title immediately, to give the ruler a graceful exit.

Suleiman has offered negotiations with all political forces, including protest leaders and the regime’s top foe, the Muslim Brotherhood. He’s spoken of independent supervision of elections, loosening restrictions on who can run for president and term limits for leaders.

He has some support.

Opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, a former U.N. atomic energy chief and Nobel peace laureate, said he respects Suleiman as a possible negotiating partner. Some protesters have backed the idea of Suleiman playing a leading role in the transition; others see him too much of a Mubarak government figure and want him out, along with the president.

Then there’s Tantawi, known among younger servicemen as “Mubarak’s poodle,” according to one informant. His unbending support for Mubarak is described in worse terms.

“`This incompetent defense minister'” who reached his position only because of unwavering loyalty to Mubarak is `running the military into the ground,'” a U.S. diplomat wrote, relaying the assessment of an unidentified professor in Egypt.

Tantawi reached out to the demonstrators Friday by visiting the square that has been the rallying point for Cairo’s protests. He held friendly but heated discussions, telling people that most of their demands have been met and they should go home. “The people and the army are one hand!” they chanted during Tantawi’s brief stop.

Anan is largely respected among U.S. officials. The cables spare him the harsh criticism doled out to Tantawi, who is lambasted in various memos as the chief impediment to modernizing Egypt’s military.

But the fear of American officials illustrated throughout the notes – and offered by the Mubarak government as its main excuse for resisting democracy – is the threat posed by the Muslim Brotherhood.

U.S. officials say there have been no contacts with the hardline Islamist movement. It has formed the most organized opposition to Mubarak’s three-decade autocracy but opposes much of the U.S. agenda in the region, such as Arab-Israeli peace efforts.

“The specter of an MB presidency haunts secular Egyptians,” a cable noted. Still, it said such a development was “highly unlikely” and that the military wouldn’t support an extremist takeover.

But avoiding talks with the group could be a mistake for the U.S., if it means a missed opportunity for some influence with a group that could become a dominant force in Egypt’s future.

The United States has confirmed discussions with ElBaradei, who has “captured the imagination of some section of the secular elite that wants democracy but is wary of the popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood,” according to a February 2010 cable.

ElBaradei’s biggest challenge would be mustering credibility among Egyptians on the streets, it predicted. The jury is still out on that question, even if the Muslim Brotherhood has expressed support for ElBaradei as an acceptable point-man for leading the pro-democracy movement. The military’s view of him hasn’t really been made clear.

Ultimately, the protests haven’t made Egypt’s post-Mubarak future any clearer. What’s obvious now is that neither Mubarak will run in September elections. But no one knows how the military will react to possibly months more of instability.

“In a messier succession scenario,” a 2008 cable noted, “it becomes more difficult to predict the military’s actions.”

“While midlevel officers do not necessarily share their superiors’ fealty to the regime,” it is “unlikely that these officers could independently install a new leader.”

They military won’t have to act alone, and no officials are warning of a military coup. But the military elite’s reticence for change could prove a hindrance to democratic transformation.

U.S. officials consistently have criticized the government’s response to the crisis, and officials say Suleiman’s outreach efforts have been too narrow and not credible enough to gain widespread support and usher in real democracy.

As for Mubarak, who said in an ABC interview Thursday that Egypt would slip into chaos if he didn’t serve out his remaining seven months, the cables suggest he never really had a succession plan – long “the elephant in the room of Egyptian politics.”

“Mubarak himself seems to be trusting to God and the inertia of the military and civilian security services to ensure an orderly transition,” a 2007 cable said.

Associated Press writer Douglas Birch contributed to this report.

February 5, 2011

Saying goodbye to a Hmong hero, and he should be to us too.


By Jack Jamison
Posted: 02/05/2011 01:00:00 AM PST

GEN. VANG PAO’S six-day funeral began yesterday in Fresno. General who? most of you ask. Any student of the Vietnam War is familiar with the name Vang Pao.When Richard Nixon became president in 1969, the CIA had been deeply and secretly involved in Laos for many years. The CIA set up its own air force and army there, which had waged a secret war in an independent country without the knowledge or consent of the American people or Congress. When the United States became actively involved in Vietnam, the CIA’s secret war in Laos became part of the Vietnam War, and Vang Pao led the CIA’s secret army. 

Vang Pao was a member of the Hmong tribe, who primarily lived in the mountainous region of Laos. The CIA had been authorized to revive, supply and increase the tribal units in past years.

During the Vietnam War the Hmong had begun to send its harassing parties deep into areas controlled by the North Vietnamese, according to William Colby, former director of the CIA. After the war in Vietnam ended, the Communists had prevailed, not only in Vietnam, but also in Laos. The few survivors of the Hmong tribe were refugees persecuted by the victorious Pathet Lao – except for the lucky few who escaped to the United States and to refugee camps in Thailand. The Hmong had nowhere else to go, their villages had been destroyed and the U.S. gave little, if any, assistance.

Gen. Vang Pao was commander of the Hmong forces that did the CIA’s bidding for many years. NOTE: In California

in recent years Vang Pao allegedly was the head of a clandestine group that was making preliminary plans to overthrow the Communist government in Laos. Regardless of the truth of any intrigue after he arrived in California, it is an undisputed fact that for years he did our bidding in Laos. He is a hero to the Hmong, and he should be to us.

Laotian general Vang Pao's funeral on 2/4/2011

Hmong war veterans and community members form an honor guard beside the casket containing Hmong Gen. Vang Pao in Fresno, Calif., on Friday(2/4/2011).

February 5, 2011

Arlington refuses burial of U.S. ally from Vietnam War


Maj. Gen. Vang Pao led thousands of Hmong soldiers as they fought alongside the United States.

ByLarry Shaugnessy, CNN
February 4, 2011 10:24 p.m. EST

Washington (CNN) — The family of a man who fought alongside U.S. troops in Vietnam have been told their relative will not be allowed to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Major General Vang Pao led thousands of Hmong soldiers as they fought alongside the United States against the North Vietnamese Army during the war in Southeast Asia, according to a news release from Congressman Jim Costa of California.

Costa, on behalf of Pao’s family, asked the Army to grant an exception to Arlington’s rules to allow Pao to be buried in the nation’s most hallowed burial ground.

Pao died recently of complications from pneumonia, according to Costa.

“The Vang Pao family’s request for an exception to the burial policy was thoroughly reviewed by a board comprised of senior military and civilian officials. … After a comprehensive analysis, the board unanimously recommended denial of the request for exception to policy. Upon receipt of the board’s input, the Secretary carefully reviewed and deliberated on this matter and accepted the board’s recommendation,” according to a statement from the Army released Friday evening.

According to the cemetery’s policy, Pao would have had to have served in the U.S. armed forces to be eligible for the honor.

The family can still ask Defense Secretary Robert Gates and President Obama to make an exception. A Pentagon spokesman said he did not know if any request regarding Pao’s burial had reached Gates as of Friday afternoon.

February 5, 2011

Laos Hmong leader Vang Pao denied Arlington burial


4 February 2011 Last updated at 21:13 ET

The US Army has rejected a request for ethnic Hmong leader Vang Pao to be buried with full military honours in Arlington National Cemetery.

Gen Pao led a 15-year CIA-sponsored secret war in Laos during the Vietnam War and, when it was lost, led tens of thousands of his people into exile.

He died last month. The army’s decision came as mourners attended the first day of a six-day funeral in California.

Thousands of Hmong and military veterans have attended the funeral

Gen Pao’s friends said they would appeal to the White House.

“Obviously to everyone who is here today to honour Gen Vang Pao, this is very disappointing,” said Congressman Jim Costa, who led a group of lawmakers to lobby for the general to be buried alongside US soldiers in Arlington.

“He is not just a hero to the Hmong people. He is a hero to those American men and women who served with him in Vietnam.”

A spokesman for the Pentagon, Gary Tallman, said the request had been thoroughly reviewed but that the board had unanimously decided he did not meet the criteria for burial in the cemetery.

‘Hmong father’

Military veteran Charlie Waters, a friend of Gen Pao’s, said he had been given “a lame excuse that it would take the place away from an American serviceman”.

Continue reading the main story

The Hmong

Hmong mourners at the funeral of Vang Pao in Fresno, CA (4 Feb 2011)
  • Ethnic group that complains of marginalisation and persecution in Lao society
  • Backed the US in 1960s as conflict spread from Vietnam into Laos and Cambodia
  • Many fled abroad in 1975 when the communists took power in Laos
  • Big Hmong communities in California, Minnesota, Thailand and Australia

“So we’re appealing to the White House,” Mr Waters told AFP news agency, adding that he had offered to give up his own plot.

It was not immediately clear where Gen Pao would now be interred.

Vang Pao died at the age of 81 in January in Fresno, California, a centre of the Hmong community in the US.

Tens of thousands of military and Hmong mourners have gathered in the city for his traditional funeral.

“We would not be here in this country without him,” said Shoua Vang, 52, who had travelled from Illinois.

Vang Pao commanded thousands of guerillas in an American-backed force during the 1960s and 70s.

As a young man, he had fought against the Japanese during World War II, and with the French against the North Vietnamese in the 1950s.

But he was a controversial figure, deeply loved by many Hmong – an ethnic minority in Lao that complains of persecution – for his insistence on freedom from foreign domination.

Critics say that by allying himself with the US, Gen Pao caused his people untold suffering – something that he himself recognised.

In his later years, he was accused of supporting a new rebellion in Laos.

Former Central Intelligence Agency chief William Colby once called Gen Pao “the biggest hero of the Vietnam War”.

More on This Story

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February 5, 2011

Rites for Gen. Vang Pao a crossroads of Hmong tradition and modern U.S. – US denies Vang Pao burial at Arlington cemetery


Hmong who immigrated to the Central Valley give leader a somber funeral that recalls his days heading forces that gave clandestine aid to the U.S. during the Vietnam War.

By Diana Marcum, Los Angeles TimesFebruary 5, 2011

Reporting from Fresno —They promised a funeral fit for a king.

There were to be dignitaries; a long red carpet; thousands of pigs, cows, chickens and ducks to be sacrificed for feasting.

It had to be a funeral that crossed cultures and time, peace and war. For this was both goodbye to one man and to the founding era of a people.

So thousands of mourners — including the exiled prince of Laos, widows of Hmong soldiers who died in a “secret” war and families who battled an East Coast blizzard to make it in time — lined the streets Friday for a procession marking the start of an elaborate six-day funeral for Gen. Vang Pao, leader of the Hmong people and a key ally of the United States during the Vietnam War

Women in traditional Hmong clothing stood shoulder to shoulder for three blocks, forming a wall of black that was accented with bright pink, green, blue and orange — their different sashes and exotic headpieces symbolizing different provinces in Laos.

Men wore suits with crisp, white shirts —- the color of peace. Inside the convention center were hundreds of wreaths of white carnations, burning white candles, and white bunting.

“I look at all this — the different colors and costumes and ages and all the people and I think ‘It is all Hmong.’ Gen. Vang Pao made us one people,” said Victor Xiong, 15, of Fresno.

Vang Pao was the first in 500 years to unite about 18 different Hmong clans. He led the Hmong, a remote, rural ethnic minority who lived in the mountains of Laos, into war, siding with the Americans against the communists in a secret front of the Vietnam War. When the United States lost the war, the Hmong were left hunted and on the run.

Many of those who survived and escaped came to the United States as refugees, and about 30,000 live in California’s Central Valley. Vang Pao was a father figure to the community as it grappled with moving from an ancient, agrarian lifestyle, without a written language, to modern American life.

Such great sweeps of history played out in personal conversations at Vang Pao’s funeral.

Retired Air Force Brigadier Gen. Art Cornelius, once one of the pilots who flew secret missions into Laos during the Vietnam era, talked with Peter C. Vang.

“He has five children. They all went to college,” Cornelius said. “He was gravely wounded in Laos. I was afraid he wasn’t going to make it. He is very important to me.”

Cornelius laughed when asked what made him so close to Vang, now a Portland, Ore., city worker.

“Fly 100 missions with a guy with gunshots everywhere. You get to like him,” Cornelius said.

Hundreds of members of the Special Guerrilla Unit, the CIA-backed Hmong army, wearing camouflage uniforms, were seated at the front section and followed the casket in the procession outside the Fresno Convention and Entertainment Center. The widows of Hmong soldiers stood together along the route.

“The general led us into war and into this American world. We worry that the American people will not love us without the general here with us,” said Neng Vue, 65, whose husband, Chong Nyia Vang, was a soldier killed during the war. “He was our leader and our father.”

While the funeral was in progress, it was announced that a request to bury Vang Pao in Arlington National Cemetery had been denied because Vang Pao and the soldiers who fought under him to help the U.S. did not directly serve in the American military.

For the Hmong, the days since Vang Pao died Dec. 6 in Clovis, Calif., at the age of 81 have been a mix of ancient traditions and the modern world.

A cameraman filming for an Internet broadcast of the funeral wore a red arm band to ward off evil spirits. Elderly Hmong women arranged a spokeswoman’s sash so it would be full in back, like a “proper Hmong woman,” while her sister told her she needed more lip gloss.

In much of Fresno County there’s nary a cow, chicken, duck or pig left unsold. Animal sacrifices, and big barbecues feeding friends and family during funerals, are part of the Hmong’s tradition. But there will be no animal sacrifice during the funeral because it’s at the convention center.

There will be songs and poetry, and Hmong flute and funeral drums, which are believed to communicate with the spirit world.

A key part of a Hmong funeral is qhuab ke, or “showing the way.” A guide takes the spirit of the deceased back through each place and time it has lived, giving thanks and honor to each, before sending it on its own into the future.

As the body of Vang Pao arrived, the conversations between friends, some of whom had not seen one another in 30 years, quieted. Old Hmong soldiers in uniform, young Hmong beauty queens in tiaras, families holding hands, all filled the street and followed the horse-drawn carriage carrying Vang Pao’s casket.

They had come to give thanks and honor before going forward alone.

Marcum is a special correspondentCopyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times

Hmong general denied Arlington burial

Decision announced at start of six-day funeral service



Hmong war veterans and community members form an honor guard beside the casket containing Hmong Gen. Vang Pao in Fresno, Calif., on Friday.

FRESNO, Calif. — Thousands of sobbing mourners in military uniform and traditional Hmong dress paid their final respects Friday to the late Gen. Vang Pao, a U.S. ally in the Vietnam War whose proposed burial at Arlington National Cemetery was denied by the Army.

A stately procession marked the opening of an elaborate, six-day funeral service in Fresno, a city with a large Hmong population.

Vang Pao’s extended family — including his 25 surviving children — a member of the Royal Lao family in exile, and the former CIA officials who recruited him to lead a covert guerrilla army during the Vietnam War followed his flag-draped casket through packed city streets.

Once the casket was lowered, a rifle team fired volleys into the air, a color guard presented Laotian, American and California flags, and bagpipes sounded as a flight team flew over the mourners who clutched cameras, tissues and sticks of incense.

The grandeur of the ceremony, however, was dampened by news that the Army had denied the Arlington burial request.

California Democratic Reps. Jim Costa and Dennis Cardoza had submitted the request on behalf of Vang Pao’s family shortly after his Jan. 6 death, saying the general had earned the honor of being buried alongside American soldiers.

A board comprised of senior military and civilian officials reviewed the request and unanimously recommended that officials decline the burial waiver, Army spokesman Gary Tallman said.

Army Secretary John McHugh carefully reviewed the matter and accepted the board recommendation, said Tallman, who declined to discuss the reason for the decision.

“Obviously to everyone who is here today to honor Gen. Vang Pao, this is very disappointing,” said Costa, adding that he planned to seek a review of the decision-making process with McHugh. “He is not just a hero to the Hmong people. He is a hero to those American men and women who served with him in Vietnam.”

Family members could not immediately be reached for comment on the Army decision.

It was not immediately clear where the remains would go following the funeral, given the Army decision. Family members had discussed a possible burial in a Santa Ana cemetery near one of the general’s homes.

Vang Pao, who commanded CIA-funded guerrillas in the jungles of Laos, is revered as a leader and father figure by the Hmong and Lao people he helped to resettle across the globe after Saigon fell. He died at age 81 near Fresno after battling pneumonia.

“There will not be anyone like Father anymore because he was truly a godsend,” said Chai Vang, one of the general’s 32 children. “All we can do is unite the community and form partnerships around the world to carry out the work he began.”

Fresno, a city of about half a million people in the state’s agricultural heartland, has pulled out all the stops for the ceremony. Businesses are gearing up to supply travelers with food and help them take part in the historic gathering of the clans.

Hmong spiritual guides and funeral specialists burned incense, chanted songs, and played bamboo wind instruments to lead Vang Pao’s soul back to his childhood home in Longhay, Laos, where his spirit can don the placental jacket to be worn on its journey toward reincarnation.

On Saturday morning, his family will present chicken, rice, drinks and paper money for the general’s voyage into the afterlife. His relatives will then cook and serve food to funeral guests, making hot meals of the animals sacrificed in his honor in tents outside the convention center, where the ceremonies were being held.

Thong Chai, who manages a Hmong grocery store on Fresno’s gritty east side, said his family has donated a pig to the general’s family.

“The general is like a hero for us, and we’ve got to help his family because it’s hard to provide all this food for everyone who’s coming,” he said, looking over the pallets of coconut juice and white gourd beverage he was preparing.

Vang Pao’s death left many issues unresolved for those who fought alongside him in the Vietnam War then came to America because of his advocacy.

Shoua Vang was among those who traveled across the country to take in the Hmong and English-language speeches and ceremonies.

“We would not be here in this country without him,” said Shoua Vang, 52, of Rockford, Ill.. “He is the Hmong leader and the Hmong father. I don’t know who will lead our people in the future.”

Once Saigon fell, thousands of his soldiers languished in refugee camps in Thailand until they were granted refugee status in the U.S., including about 30,000 Laotians, Cambodians and Hmong who moved to Fresno.

In 2007, Vang Pao and 11 others were accused of plotting to violently overthrow the communist government of Laos, sparking a 3½ year legal battle. Vang Pao was dropped from the case in 2009, and federal prosecutors said suddenly last month they were dismissing all remaining charges in the interests of justice, only days after the general’s passing.

“When we were over there, our blood ran with theirs, and we became friends,” said Dean Murphy, a brigadier general with the Joint Service Honors Command, a volunteer group of military retirees and former service members that presided over the military funeral rites. “When the Hmong came here, our tears flowed with theirs and today, we mourn our friend together.”

Earlier this week, a phalanx of the general’s former recruits lined up in their fatigues to lay a wreath of yellow daisies before Vang Pao’s portrait, which lay against a solemn monument to Laotian veterans on the lawn of the county courthouse.

Most were well into their 60s, but the aging secret army still snapped to attention as their former commanders cried out in Hmong for them to salute in unison.

“We fought in the American war, and if we didn’t join that war there might be thousands more Americans dead,” said Col. Wangyee Vang, president of the nonprofit Lao Veterans of America.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Anger as Hmong general refused US honor burial


By Mark Ralston (AFP) – 2 hours ago

The casket containing Hmong war hero and community leader General Vang Pao

FRESNO, California — Thousands of ethnic Hmong paid their last respects Friday to Laotian general Vang Pao, who led a CIA-backed “secret army” in the Vietnam war, at the start of a six-day funeral service.

But the gathering was clouded with anger when it was announced that US authorities have refused a request for the 81-year-old Hmong veteran to be buried with full honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

Military veterans who fought alongside him joined family and community mourners at the traditional funeral service in Fresno, California, where he died last month.

Shortly after the initial two-hour funeral ceremony, however, a confidant of Vang Pao said US authorities had told him they were refusing a burial at Arlington, where top US military brass are laid to rest.

Hmong war veterans form an honor guard

“They called a little while ago… and they told me the committee turned the general down,” said Charlie Waters, an American military veteran and confidant of Vang Pao told AFP, adding: “So we’re appealing to the White House.”

“They gave me this lame excuse that it would take it the place away from an American serviceman. That’s crap,” he said adding that he would offer to surrender his own place at Arlington.

Vang Pao led the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-backed force that assisted the United States in Vietnam, during its ill-fated war with communist forces in the north of southeast Asian nation.

He died of pneumonia on January 6 in the central California city of Fresno, one of the major hubs of the United States’ 250,000-strong Hmong community, some 30-40,000 of whom live in the western US state.

Draped in the Stars and Stripes flag, Vang Pao’s coffin was borne into Fresno’s convention center where tens of thousands of Hmong from the United States and abroad were expected to gather over the weekend.

Members of the Hmong community

Rows of black-clad mourners joined ranks of soldiers in uniforms and khakis, as well as bagpipers in kilts who had accompanied the casket into the hall, to the strains of Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony.

“Today our Laotian nation has lost… one of its outstanding sons,” said Khamphay Abbay, a former Royal Lao official and Laotian currently living in Australia, who was an advisor to Vang Pao during the war.

California US congressman Jim Costa has led a group of lawmakers in Washington lobbying for Vang Pao to be buried at Arlington, outside Washington DC.

William Dietzel, another US friend of the Hmong general, also paid tribute to Vang Pao’s support for the United States in one of its darkest hours.

“General Vang Pao will forever be remembered for his extraordinary service in the defense of freedom,” he told the ceremony.

Waters, who spoke during the two-hour ceremony, lashed the Arlington decision.

“How many times can these bureaucrats hurt these people?” he said, adding: “The timing sucks .. How dare they? These people are hurting. These jerks, they could have told us a long time ago.”

There was no immediate word from the Pentagon in Washington.

The central California city of Fresno is one of the major hubs of the United States’ 250,000-strong Hmong community, some 30-40,000 of whom live in the western US state.

Vang Pao, a fierce opponent of the communist government in Vientiane, was also a controversial figure.

In 2007, he was arrested in California on charges of plotting to overthrow a foreign government after an undercover agent tried to sell him weapons at a Thai restaurant.

Prosecutors dropped their charges in 2009. On Monday, a judge ended the case for the remaining 11 Hmong Americans accused in the case amid persistent questions over the government’s evidence.

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