Sat, Jun 16, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Grand jury indicts 10 in coup plot

STILL AT WARMembers of the California Hmong community were indicted on Thursday for their part in a US$10 million plot to overthrow the government of Laos

AP , SACRAMENTO, California

A federal grand jury indicted 10 members of California's Hmong community and a former official of the California National Guard on charges they plotted to violently overthrow the communist government of Laos.

The indictment on Thursday came on the same day that federal agents arrested an 11th suspect in the case, Dang Vang, 48, of Fresno, California. Prosecutors say Vang drafted elaborate plans to finance and carry out the coup.

All 11 were charged with conspiracy to violate the US Neutrality Act, as well as several other felonies associated with an alleged plot to purchase nearly US$10 million in weapons, including AK-47 rifles and Stinger missiles, and to hire mercenaries to carry out the attacks.

Prosecutors say the group's goal was to bomb government buildings and shoot down military aircraft in an effort to topple the country's communist regime, which has persecuted Hmong who sympathize with the US since the end of the Vietnam War.

Most of the Hmong arrested in the case are from California's Central Valley, which is home to thousands of refugees who have fled the Southeast Asian nation since the end of the Vietnam War. Large populations have also settled in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

"Federal law is without equivocation: you cannot conspire to overthrow a foreign government with whom our nation is at peace," US Attorney McGregor Scott said in a statement announcing the indictment.

Scott's office released an 88-page criminal complaint on Monday last week detailing six months of recorded conversations in which suspects allegedly discussed plans to airlift weapons to the Laos-Thailand border and launch a coordinated attack in Laos.

Officials have also said their probe may extend to a former Wisconsin state senator, an unnamed congressman and the California Highway Patrol. They were not named in Thursday's indictment, however, and it was unclear if prosecutors plan to make further arrests.

At the heart of the alleged plot is Vang Pao, a 77-year-old former general in the Royal Army of Laos who led CIA-backed counterinsurgents during the Vietnam War, and retired California National Guard Lieutenant Colonel Harrison Jack.

Federal prosecutors allege Jack, 60, a 1968 West Point graduate and Vietnam era Army Ranger who led covert operations and worked with Hmong during the war, was the central arms broker in the scheme.

Assistant US Attorney Bob Twiss said prosecutors did not originally seek a formal indictment before the arrests because they believed the plot was close to being executed and it was necessary to apprehend the group as soon as possible.

The original complaint stated that the group planned to ship weapons on June 12 and June 19 to Thailand.

What the alleged conspirators did not realize was that the person who they thought was an arms dealer was actually an agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

All of the suspects face life in prison if convicted.

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