Clash Between Lao Troops and Armed Group Leaves One Dead in Xaysomboun

A member of an unidentified group of gunmen was killed in a clash with Lao government troops this month in the latest of a series of sporadic attacks by anti-government forces in Xaysomboun province, sources close to the Lao military and police said.

After the the March 9 clash in Xaysomboun’s Thathom district, government troops spread out over a nearby mountain to track other fighters down, sources told RFA’s Lao Service, speaking on condition of anonymity for safety reasons.

“Currently, the authorities won’t allow anyone to enter the fighting area,” a relative of one of the soldiers told RFA on Tuesday. “Some members of the anti-government force have escaped, and soldiers have been sent to the combat zone, which is on top of a mountain.”

“Yes, there was a shooting incident in the area,” a former government military officer told RFA, while another source close to a high-ranking provincial military officer also confirmed reports of the clash.

“It happened in early March,” the source said, also asking that his name not be used, “and the Xaysomboun authorities have sent a great number of provincial military troops to reinforce the forces in Thathom.”

Soldiers from the province are now patrolling and blocking the roads in the areas nearby so that insurgents cannot recover the body of their fallen comrade, a villager in Thathom said, adding, “They normally won’t leave their friends behind, but the soldiers have captured the body now.”

Persons are now prohibited from entering the area between Thathom district’s Vangkhan Point and Sobjae Point, according to a March 15 district office notice citing “military activity” in the area. The period of the ban runs from March 15 until March 30, says the notice, a copy of which was obtained by RFA.

Thathom District Chief Phouthasath Noythavy meanwhile turned away requests for comment, saying “I’m not able to provide you with more details about this right now. I’m in a meeting.”

lao-fighters.jpg
Two members of an identified anti-government group in Laos pose for a photo after a clash with Lao soldiers in Xaysomboun’ province, March 9, 2021.

Shootings, bomb attacks

Since 2000, Laos has sustained periodic shootings and bomb attacks on transportation hubs and border checkpoints by suspected insurgents.

The March 9 clash was only the latest in a series of shootings and other attacks in Xaysomboun province, most recently on June 20, 2020 when a government soldier was shot and killed while on patrol inspecting for illegal poppy cultivation.

In January 2016, a car carrying Chinese miners was ambushed in the province, leaving two dead and one injured, and in November 2015 an exchange of gunfire between an armed group and local troops left three soldiers and four civilians dead, sources said in earlier reports.

In most cases, Laos’ secretive government stops short of identifying individuals or groups who might have perpetrated the attacks while there are no claims of responsibility or political statements issued in connection with the incidents.

Authorities in multi-ethnic Laos have long been wary of opposition among the country’s Hmong ethnic minority, many of whom say they face persecution from the government because of their ties with the United States during the Vietnam War, when thousands of Hmong fought under CIA advisers during the so-called “secret war” against communists in Laos.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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