Gangsters stir unrest

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 March, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 March, 1996, 12:00am

GANGSTERS along the Laos border with Vietnam at Ky Son are threatening to destabilise the region and stir up tension among the indigenous Hmong people, local officials said.

They claimed the gangsters had links with Laos exiles in the United States including General Vang Pao, who led US-backed Hmong Laotians against the communists in the '60s and '70s.

'We know they are out there and we know they are always looking at ways to come in and cause trouble,' said one senior Vietnamese Communist Party official.

'We are confident we will always beat them back, but we must work hard to keep our own Hmong people happy.' The ethnically Chinese Hmong people rarely live below 1,500 metres and dominate the rugged, mountainous district of Ky Son.

Local Hmong officials are now on the alert after rumours General Vang was due to return from exile in California with followers.

Nearly 150,000 Hmong now live in the US, but resistance groups in Laos are said to be fractured and living deep in jungle hideouts.

Ky Son, in Nghe An province is one of Vietnam's poorest and most isolated areas, and is home to some of the country's last commercial opium fields. Ethnic Vietnamese make up just one per cent of the 50,000-strong population. The district's main township of Muong Xen still has only partial electrical power.

The few ethnic Vietnamese officials in the district are now working with Hmong party members to end the traditional reliance on opium crops. Officials said they had halved the 3,000 hectares grown.

'We know it is their tradition and part of their culture, so the only long-term hope we have for change is working with them to alter their whole economic structure,' said Ky Son People's Committee Secretary, Cao Tien Tan.

'We must work with them to find new crops and build roads and schools to help them find new ways of supporting themselves.' The United Nations has earmarked more than US$3 million (HK$23.18 million) to tackle opium cultivation.