- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Protests target Laos

Leading members of the Senate demanded an explanation from the Laotian ambassador about reports that his government is starving opponents of the communist regime, as immigrants from the Southeast Asian nation protested outside the Laotian Embassy yesterday.

The demonstrators also targeted the Vietnamese Embassy to protest that government’s military aid to the Laotian army, and the State Department to denounce Bush administration efforts to gain congressional approval of normal trade relations with Laos.

The protests, organized by the United Lao Congress for Democracy and the National Center for Public Policy Analysis, came as Laotian Foreign Minister Somsavat Lengsavat was thought to be in Washington to lobby for the trade measure, protest leaders said. The Laotian Embassy did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Douglas Hartwick, the U.S. ambassador to Laos, was at the State Department during the protest but avoided the demonstrators as he left. The protesters want Mr. Hartwick recalled to show U.S. displeasure with the Laotian government. Mr. Hartwick last month signed a bilateral trade deal with Laos, the first step in the trade-normalization process.

Democratic Sens. Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin and Dianne Feinstein of California organized Friday’s letter to Ambassador Phanthong Phommahaxay, which the protesters released yesterday.

Mr. Feingold, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Mrs. Feinstein, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, cited an Oct. 2 report by Amnesty International that denounced Laos for using “starvation as a weapon of war against civilians.”

The senators and five of their colleagues who also signed the letter said the Amnesty report supports complaints they have received from constituents about human rights abuses against the ethnic Hmong community in Laos.

Thousands of Hmong families are caught up in a conflict between government troops and a small Hmong uprising of rebels equipped mostly with weapons left over from the Vietnam War.

Mrs. Feinstein and Mr. Feingold said many of their constituents “claim that the Lao government is killing innocent civilians and that Hmong are suffering from malnutrition and starvation without access to medical attention.”

They also referred to reports in May and June in Time magazine’s Asian edition that said Laotian troops “hunted down and surrounded a ‘ragtag army with wailing families in tow’ and appeared to be on the brink of slaughtering them.”

“Starvation as a weapon of war is a violation of the Geneva Conventions, which Laos has ratified,” the senators said in their letter. “We urge you to investigate the treatment of the Hmong in the jungles of Laos and put a stop to any practices violating international law.”

Kazakhs honor Nunn

The ambassador of Kazakhstan this week presented former Sen. Sam Nunn with his country’s highest honor for a foreigner to recognize the Georgia Democrat for helping eliminate nuclear weapons in the former Soviet republic.

Ambassador Kanat Saudabayev said the Central Asian nation inherited the world’s fourth-largest nuclear arsenal after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1991, Mr. Nunn, then chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican, co-sponsored a bill that helped pay for the destruction of Soviet nuclear weapons.

“The names of Senator Nunn and Senator Lugar are inscribed in the history of this country in golden letters,” the ambassador said at the awards presentation at the University of Georgia.

Mr. Lugar, now chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, received the award on a visit to Kazakhstan in August.

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