Date: Tuesday 6 October 2003
Subj: Laos: Eliminating Christianity.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.
Communist Laos in South East Asia is one of the world's most severe religious liberty abusers, being one of the few nations in the world where the government has expressly declared its intent to eliminate Christianity. Reports indicate that government abuses go well beyond systematic intimidation, deprivation, harassment and persecution of Christians. The Lao government is also engaged in the systematic killing of Hmong civilians, militarily, by means of chemical weapons and forced starvation.
Of all the people groups in Laos, the Hmong have been the most responsive to the gospel. There have been great turnings to Christ amongst the Hmong and the Khmu, sometimes with whole villages coming to Christ. Gospel radio has been a significant instrument, and now indigenous evangelists are spreading the Good News at great personal risk and in the midst of great persecution.
Through the 1960s the Hmong fought with the Americans against the Communists in the Indochina war. The Hmong continue to call for democracy and religious freedom and have been waging a low-level guerrilla insurgency against the Communist government for many years. Hence the Hmong are considered enemies of the government, and a channel for Western influence.
The Laotian government considers Christianity to be a violation of Lao custom and an 'imperialist foreign religion' backed by political interests in the West, particularly the United States. Christians are therefore regarded as subversive and enemies of the state.
Persecution has escalated continuously since the Communists took over in 1975. Since the late 1990s, Lao believers have been beaten, imprisoned, tortured and forced off their lands and into severe hardship for refusing to sign the government's "Voluntary resignation from a foreign religion" document. (For some good background on Laos see link 1.)
A letter to Far East Broadcasting Company (FEBC) from a Hmong believer in Laos
- June 2003. (Link 2)
"This is the first letter that I have written to you. I want to let you know that I am already a believer, however during these times the government has refused Christians any sanction to worship and therefore have closed all public churches in our part of the country. The government wants us to go back and worship evil spirits, which breaks my heart.
"Not only that, but if the government sees us praying, they will persecute us and will jail us. At this time, the non-Christians in our village have reported the Christians they know. They claimed that we practiced our religions without evidence, so some have been persecuted. Other claims include espionage for the country of America, which carries stiff fines.
"Despite our problems, I want to know if you can send me a tape that teaches us how to keep our faith in the Lord, and away from false prophets. Pray for us so that we can pay whatever fines have been imposed on us. Any Bibles or scripture teaching tapes would be beneficial to us.
Thank you so much!"
EXPOSING THE 'SECRET JUNGLE WAR'.
In early September 2003, the WEA RLC interviewed a Laos observer who reported that many Hmong groups isolated in the jungle are under constant military attack which includes the use of chemical weapons. For security reasons this observer's identity must remain secret.
"There are at least 5,000 such people in several groups. But my reports say that only about 20% are men and the rest are women and children. The reason that there are so few men is that so many men have been killed defending themselves as they fight against the government troops. The Hmong are asking for democracy and freedom, and are therefore under constant attack from government troops.
"What's more, the Laos government is doing everything in its power to ensure that the world does not know anything about this 'secret jungle war' against the Hmong. It is practically impossible for foreigners to get to meet these people, as you have to walk for many days in the jungle.
"The army is attacking in three ways: with ground troops (soldiers), bombs from aircrafts and chemical weapons. The Government uses helicopters and they spray out something that looks like 'yellow rain'. It creates headache, diarrhoea, blindness, and the teeth fall out of the mouth. Within three weeks people die. As these people only eat leaves and roots they also often eat leaves that are affected by the 'yellow rain'. When they do that they usually die within three days. These attacks are directly against people (including women and children), water and trees.
"It is impossible to say exactly how many have died. One Hmong group consisted of 8,000 four years ago and today there are only 750 left. My estimation is that many hundreds have died from chemical attacks. Many others have died from starvation and sickness, as they do not have any medication. Many have also surrendered and subsequently been killed.
"There are videos of these attacks, and hundreds of photos. These have been presented both to the International Red Cross and the UN but nobody in the West seems interested to help."
STARVATION AS A WEAPON
Amnesty International released a Public Statement on 2 October 2003 entitled, "Laos: Use of starvation as a weapon of war against civilians". It reads, "Amnesty International is gravely concerned by the sharply deteriorating situation of thousands of family members of ethnic minority groups, predominantly Hmong, involved in an armed conflict with the Lao military in jungle areas of the country.
"Reports have reached the organization of scores of civilian deaths, predominantly among children, from starvation and injuries sustained during the conflict. It is known that several of approximately 20 rebel groups with their families are surrounded by Lao military and prevented from foraging for food that they traditionally rely on to survive." (Link 3)
- Elizabeth Kendal
1) OMF Laos, Background.
2) Far East Broadcasting Company
3) Amnesty International, 2 October 2003
Laos: Use of starvation as a weapon of war against civilians.