"On the contrary we are helping them to reintegrate with the mainstream of society."

 

Al Jazeera's report, first broadcast on Thursday, showed hundreds of sick and malnourished men, women and children, living in desperate conditions hiding in the Laos jungle from government forces.

 

The Hmong were recruited as a so-called secret army by the CIA during the Vietnam War, and say that as a result they have been targeted for revenge by the communist government which took over in 1975.


Laos government spokesman Yong
Chanthalangsy rejected claims of persecution
Responding to those allegations, Yong said those shown in the reports were "isolated cases", adding that there were many more ethnic Hmong living in Laos who were much better off.

 

Several ethnic Hmong, he said, "hold top positions in the party in the government. How can you pretend that they are persecuted?"

 

"There are thousands if not tens of thousands of people who are joining the government's rural development programme and I have not heard of any persecution."

 

Asked if the Laos government would invite independent monitors into the country, he said that Laos was working "hand in hand" with neighbouring countries to address the issue.

 

"We do not need any intervention from a third party," he told Al Jazeera. "I don't see why there should be intervention and interference from outside."

 

Call for help

 

The Lost Tribe


Watch the special programme

Click here to see part one

Click here to see part two

Al Jazeera's exclusive report from inside Laos heard from a Hmong leader, Vang Chu Chi, who claimed to represent some 7,000 people he said desperately needed help from the international community.

 

"We are waiting to see if there is any democratic country in this world come to release us and let us have a life of freedom that is fair to us," he told our correspondent.

 

He said thousands of his people had been killed by Laos government forces, and many bore the scars from fighting during more than three decades on the run.

 

Cy Phao is an American born ethnic Hmong, based in the US city of Minneapolis St Paul, home to a large community of Hmong exiles.

 

"Women and children are still suffering and still dieing for something that happened 30 to 40 years ago"

T Kumar,
Amnesty International

He has fought for the rights of Hmong both in the US and those who remain in Laos and told Al Jazeera that pressure should be brought to bear on the Laos communist government.

 

"The economy of the Lao government – 80 per cent of their budget - comes from foreign aid," he said.

 

"I would ask that these countries who give money to the Lao government - which allows the Lao government to exist - to put pressure and say 'we're going to stop sending you money until you solve this issue'."

 

'Never addressed'

 

The Hmong say they will die without
urgent international help
The Hmong themselves see the United Nations as their only hope of survival.

 

But with the world's attention on bigger conflicts such as Darfur, the suffering in the jungles of Laos gets little attention.

 

"The plight of these people has never been addressed," T. Kumar, Amnesty International's advocacy director for Asia and the Pacific, told Al Jazeera.

 

"During the Vietnam war, the United States needed Hmong to fight the war. Now the war is over they have been left high and dry in the jungles to suffer."

 

"Women and children are still suffering and still dieing for something that happened 30 to 40 years ago."