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Hearing - State Department Fiscal Year 2005 Budget

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


Federal News Service

HEADLINE: HEARING OF THE COMMERCE, JUSTICE, STATE, JUDICIARY AND RELATED AGENCIES SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE SENATE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE

SUBJECT: STATE DEPARTMENT FISCAL YEAR 2005 BUDGET

CHAIRED BY: SENATOR JUDD GREGG (R-NH)

WITNESS: SECRETARY OF STATE COLIN POWELL

LOCATION: S-146, THE CAPITOL, WASHINGTON, D.C.

BODY:

SEN. HERBERT KOHL (D-WI): Thank you, Senator Gregg.

I'd like to change briefly to another area of the world which my staff has told you I was going to inquire about, and that's Laos. Mr. Secretary, I'm deeply concerned about reports coming from Laos on the status of the Hmong. My state of Wisconsin is the home to 33,000 former Hmong refugees, many of whom are concerned about the status of their family and friends in Laos, who have living in the jungle since the end of the Vietnam war. Estimates are that there are as many as 17,000 still in the jungles. As you know, Mr. Secretary, the United States is indebted to these former Hmong insurgents, who fought valiantly with us during the Vietnam war. In recent weeks there have been reports that hundreds of Hmong have been emerging from the jungle to take advantage of an unofficial Lao government amnesty program. The Lao government denies that there is such a program. We've been receiving reports that many of these Hmong have not surrendered willingly, but they have been captured and are being severely mistreated.

Last week Senator Feingold and myself along with others sent a letter to Ambassador Negroponte asking for his assistance and urging the United Nations to send a high level U.N. representative or fact- finding mission to Laos to monitor the treatment of the Hmong. To endure the safety of this Hmong population, we need to do all we can to shed light on the situation there. Unfortunately, as you know, there's virtually no international access to the areas where the Hmong live. So can I ask for your support in this request for a high level United Nations representative or fact-finding mission to Laos?

SEC. POWELL: Sir, we will be answering your letter in the next day or so, but we believe the U.N. can play an important role. There are U.N. agencies working in the area now. I really do need to talk to Kofi Annan as to whether he wants to designate yet another new special representative for this. But we will consider this request.

Our initial look into the issues raised in your letter suggests that they are coming out. But we have not yet gotten any evidence to suggest they are being abused in the way that some people have said they're being abused. I don't say it hasn't happened or isn't happening, but we still have to do more work to establish the facts.

And we're trying to get greater access to them, and we're in touch with the Lao government about the need for greater access, and we're pushing the U.N. to achieve greater access.

As a separate matter, as you know, there's a Hmong population that is in Thailand, and we're working hard to see if we can resettle them as refugees, as part of our refugee resettlement program here in the United States.

SEN. KOHL: All right. Thank you.

Mr. Secretary, an AP story earlier this week, based on information from a Hmong leader in the jungle, reported that 6,000 Laotian troops, using machine guns and grenades, mortars and helicopter gunships, have launched a new attack against a group of 2,000 Hmong insurgents and their families. At least seven women and children were killed.

Amnesty International reported in October that the Lao government has used starvation as a weapon of war against thousands of Hmong in the jungle. We've seen reports, such as photos in a Time Asia piece last summer, that Hmong in the jungle are living in deplorable conditions.

What can we do to press the Laotians on the human rights situation? Senator Feingold and myself contacted the Lao government about the Amnesty report. They have denied the report.

Our ambassador has been pressing for normal trade relations for Laos, and that bill was recently introduced in the Finance Committee. My question is, is this the time for us to be rewarding that government with normal trade relations, when we are supposedly-and, I believe, should be-so concerned about their human rights treatment?

SEC. POWELL: We are concerned about the human rights treatment. We see reports of of this military operation, and we're trying to confirm or get a denial of it, to find out what the facts are. The embassy is working hard to establish the facts. But I've seen the same reports that you have. I just don't know the real facts yet.

The Lao government does have an amnesty policy with respect to the trade relief legislation-let me take another look at it, because I was not familiar with it --

SEN. KOHL: I would appreciate it very much.

SEC. POWELL: I'd be delighted, Senator.

SEN. KOHL: Finally, you referred to the Buddhist temple in Thailand and resettlement efforts. I'd like to know what the State Department plans are to ensure the humane treatment of those Hmong Lao who do not qualify for resettlement in the United States. In the interest of time, I'll submit the question, and I look forward to some response from you.

SEC. POWELL: Yes, sir. Thank you, Senator.

SEN. KOHL: I thank you, Mr. Secretary.

SEN. GREGG: Thanks, Senator Kohl.

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