Laotian authorities have deported three of four US nationals arrested after the surrender of around 170 relatives of ethnic Hmong rebels, a government spokesman and the US embassy in Laos said yesterday.
"Three of them have been set free. They were handed over on Monday to the American embassy and immediately taken to the border with Thailand," Laotian Foreign Ministry spokesman Yong Chantalangsy said.
The four arrested were Georgie and Ed Szendrey from California and two Hmong-Americans, Nhia Vang Yang and Sia Cher Vang, all members of the Fact Finding Commission (FFC), a US-based organization backing the Hmong rebels.
The Szendreys and Nhia were deported. The fourth US national, Sia, was a businessman based in Laos and was still being questioned, Chantalangsy said.
"He had arranged the others' visit and we want to question him further," he said.
The four said they witnessed the surrender on Saturday of the 170 ethnic Hmong, apparently mostly women and children.
Laos does not acknowledge the existence of the rebels, who were allied with the US during the Vietnam War three decades ago and have until recently fought a low-level, ineffective insurgency.
US-based exile groups, including the FFC, have accused the Laotian authorities of trying to chase and kill the last Hmong rebels. The government has vehemently denied the charges.
US ambassador to Laos Patricia Haslach was called to the foreign ministry on Monday to discuss the actions of the arrested US nationals.
The Laotian government said after the arrests that it was "very unhappy that the US citizens came to Laos in order to spread calumnies about the government and manipulate information."
The US embassy in the Laotian capital Vientiane yesterday said the four "were detained while observing the resettlement of several groups of Hmong villagers from the forests" in Xieng Khuang province.
Laotian officials had said the last American in custody, Sia, would be released shortly.
According to several foreign observers in Laos, the Hmong who surrendered on Saturday had been well treated by the authorities.