Arrest Uncovers Divide in Hmong-Americans

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Year after year, Vang Pao, the most recognized leader of Hmong people in the United States, described his dream when he appeared at Hmong New Year celebrations, ceremonies for new refugees, memorial dedications. Someday, he said, he would carry his people home to a free Laos.

So when he was arrested on June 4, accused of conspiring to overthrow the government in Laos, many older Hmong-Americans said they were stunned — not so much at the accusations but at the American prosecutors for turning their backs on a war hero.

Vang Pao, a military general in Laos, was lauded for leading forces backed by the Central Intelligence Agency in the “secret war” against communists there during the Vietnam War and had, for 30 years since, made no secret of his hopes for a democratic Laos.

But the arrest of Gen. Vang Pao, 77, has also revealed a split in the Hmong population that has sprung up in this country: between old and young, between those who fled Laos and those who grew up here. A younger generation of Hmong- Americans, more skeptical of Gen. Vang Pao’s fund-raising tactics and controversial groups, said they respected the man but did not wish to return to a homeland they had never seen and worried that the charges might stain the Hmong people here.

Federal authorities said their six-month investigation revealed a plot to purchase AK-47 rifles, plastic explosives, anti-tank rockets and surface-to-air missiles in order to overthrow the government in a violation of the Neutrality Act, which bars Americans from taking military action against countries with which the nation is at peace.

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