Monday, June 11, 2007

Hmong Leader Held on Coup Charges

The Associated Press
Monday, June 11, 2007; 11:26 PM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Hundreds of a Hmong leader's supporters demonstrated outside a federal courthouse Monday as a magistrate refused to release him on bail while he awaits trial on charges of trying to overthrow the communist government of Laos.

Despite his age and deteriorating health, Vang Pao, 77, is too dangerous and too great a flight risk to be freed under any circumstances, U.S. Magistrate Judge Edmund Brennan ruled after a 30-minute hearing.

Vang Pao and eight other Hmong elders were arrested June 4 on charges that they tried to buy nearly $10 million worth of military weapons and recruit mercenaries to unseat Laos's communist government.

A 10th defendant, retired California National Guard Lt. Col. Harrison Jack, is also charged, accused of trying to arrange the coup through an arms broker who turned out to be an undercover federal agent.

Hmong from across California and several other states packed the courtroom and filled a courthouse plaza and surrounding sidewalks for Vang Pao's detention hearing. Court security officials estimated that 500 to 1,000 Hmong showed up.