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[April 14, 2006]

Several hundred rally for 29 missing Hmong

(Fresno Bee (CA) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Apr. 14--Several hundred Hmong-Americans rallied in Fresno on Thursday, calling on the federal government to help find 27 Hmong children and two adults imprisoned in Thailand and deported to Laos nearly five months ago.

Organizers said they hoped the rally would bring awareness to the missing refugees and encourage Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to intervene, possibly urging the Lao and royal Thai governments to investigate.

"We are worried about my niece. Please bring my niece home," said Mor Yang, a Fresno aunt of 14-year-old Pa Houa Yang, who is among the missing.

The missing children and adults were returning to their camp in Thailand on Nov. 28 after attending choir rehearsals at a Seventh-day Adventist Church when Thai authorities transported them to a local detention facility, according to the human rights group World Hmong People's Congress.

Thai authorities deported the group to Laos on Dec. 5, said Laura Lo Xiong, executive director of the Hmong International Human Rights Watch. Many Hmong have fled Laos to avoid persecution since the Vietnam War, when they were recruited by the CIA to fight communists.

"Our greatest fear is they will take these children and murder them," said Wa Lor Vang, whose three children -- Dang Vang, 17, Pa Kou Vang, 15, and Chai Vang, 14 -- are among those missing. Wa Lor Vang was at the Fresno rally Thursday.

Members of the local Hmong-American community said they came out Thursday to support parents such as Vang.

"It is our hope that this issue will be resolved as soon as possible. We believe that a fair amount of time for this issue to be resolved should not go past May 20," said Summer Vue, chair of the Hmong-American Coalition for Human Rights and Justice in the Central Valley.

The coalition has asked for help from elected officials such as Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.

The Lao government has so far not cooperated with requests by the United States to locate the children, said Peter Eisenhauer, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Population Refugees and Migration.

Vang said of officials and others involved in finding the children: "I believe they are doing something, but it's not fast enough."

The Lao government declined repeated requests to disclose the location of the children and to let the United Nations Children's Fund and other agencies assist them, according to a January statement from the U.S. Department of State. The statement called the Lao government's refusal to help an "obstruction."

The reporter can be reached at vcolon@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6313.

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