Hmong Come in From the Cold

Several thousand Laotian Hmong, U.S. allies during the Vietnam War, are ready to surrender after decades of being pursued by Pathet Lao government.

Forgotten U.S. allies emerge from jungles of Laos (Reuters)

Up to 4,000 ethnic Hmong, remnants of a U.S.-backed anti-communist guerrilla army in the Laotian jungles during the Vietnam War, are ready to surrender after 30 years on the run, a U.S. activist said on Thursday. Ex-California police officer Ed Szendrey, who was detained at the weekend by the Laotian communist government for helping 173 women, children and elderly people give themselves up, said many more Hmong were waiting to come in from the cold. “We’ve had indications that there are nearly three to four thousand ready to surrender,” Szendrey told a news conference in the Thai capital after his deportation from the landlocked southeast Asian nation as a “trouble-maker.”

Human rights groups and Hmong refugees say the Pathet Lao communists, who seized power in Laos in 1975 in the closing stages of the Vietnam War, have prosecuted a war for decades against the Hmong as punishment for their alliance with the United States. Publication in the past two years of photographs of malnourished, wounded and disfigured Hmong fighters and their families, who were abandoned by the U.S. after the Vietnam War, have corroborated those claims.


With assurances of aid from Washington and the United Nations, but no official diplomatic support, [Szendrey] organized a daring midnight rendezvous with the group of 173 refugees by a road near the Xaisomboun “Special Zone,” a region off-limits to foreigners. “It was a very emotional time when the men turned the women and children over to us,” Szendrey said. “They had to leave swiftly.” Shortly after dawn, the rag-tag group made its way from the trees to a nearby village, where they were welcomed with open arms by residents and officials with offers of food and water, Szendrey said.

If the initial group were well treated, and he could get word through to the 15,000 Hmong still believed to be hiding in the dense jungle, Szendrey said thousands more were ready to give themselves up. However, soldiers arrived and the refugees were taken away. State media say they are being cared for in a village near the northeast town of Phonsavanh. There is no independent verification of their condition.

Szendrey, his wife and two U.S.-Hmong activists were then arrested on their way back to the capital, Vientiane. One of the Hmong-Americans is still in custody. A Laotian Foreign Ministry spokesman said the U.S. group had been deported for interfering in a government scheme to move Hmong villagers into larger, centralized communities to give them with better access to food, water and electricity.

What the Szendreys did was noble and brave but it’s hardly surprising that the Laotian government considers them criminals; they’re outsiders interfering in matters of state.

It’s a shame, however, that it has taken decades for the United States to supply even tacit aid for the Hmong. While being a defeated enemy of the United States can be quite rewarding– postwar Germany, Japan, and Italy and modern-day Iraq and Afghanistan have received billions in aide–being an ally in a cause we have given up on can be quite deadly, as the Iraqi Kurds and Laotian Hmong learned the hard way.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. jason says:

    When will America pay the Hmong back for what they have done. The promise the Americans made to the Hmong is long overdue. What kind of friends make promises and brakes them. I personally feel that the American government should help these poor people. They have suffer too long.

  2. John Doe says:

    The American government doesn’t care about the Hmong people. You see, the WHITE power in America do not understand the situation, what they only care for are themselves and not others. Lets say these people who abandoned the promise to the rest of the Hmong people have only used them for benefits. The Walk for Freedom was a great way of approaching this situation and yet the government still ignored us, they have no use for the leftovers in Laos that’s why they decide not to help, pathetic.

  3. John Doe says:

    I have heard that the Hmong people are trying to divided the country “Laos”. If this is true how possible can it be. If anyone who know the history of Laos should understand that the Hmong has no ownership of the land. Please anyone who has the knowledge of this area let me know. Thank you