A Lao military officer who was deputy minister of national defense has been appointed governor of Xaysomboun province to tamp down increased unrest since last November, which has left 10 dead, a retired soldier close to a high-ranking officer in the Ministry of National Defense said.
Major General Thongloy Silivong, a member of the Party Central Committee and former chief of the National Defense Academy, was appointed the new party secretary of Xaysomboun province on Feb. 16, replacing Sombath Yialiher.
Thongloy was one of 69 people elected to the Party Central Committee during the 10th Party Congress of the ruling Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, the country’s most important political event, held in the capital Vientiane in January.
“The appointment of a high-ranking military official to govern the province was expected because of the unrest,” the retired soldier, speaking on condition of anonymity, told RFA’s Lao Service.
Unrest in the mountainous province in central Laos is nothing new, but recent violent incidents mean it can no longer be ignored because of the effect on local development and the lives of area residents, he said.
Lao authorities imposed a curfew in the north-central part of the province in early December after a spate of violence the previous month in which three government soldiers and three civilians were killed.
Last month, a bomb blast at a road construction site near a work camp outside Pha Nok Kok village, Long Cheang district, killed two Chinese officials and injured a third, and forced work on the project to stop temporarily. Previously, soldiers defused another bomb on the same road in Namphanoy village on Dec. 30.
While authorities blamed the events on bandits, a source close to the government told RFA that an anti-government resistance group was behind the killings, a rarity in the tightly ruled country where no known armed rebel groups have operated in recent years.
“It is well known that the province is the base of an anti-government group, and no one can deny it,” the retired soldier said. “The reason the government has appointed Major General Thongloy to oversee that province is because he’s not a hard-line soldier, but a politics-minded one who will focus on a peaceful strategy.”
Some believe that ethnic Hmong who live in the province may be the ones behind the recent attacks, he said.
The Nam Ngiep 1, a 290-megawatt hydropower dam being built in Xaysomboun and neighboring Bolikhamxay province, has forced about 300 Hmong families to relocate to two other villages in Xaysomboun.
“The villagers did not want to be moved because they were not satisfied with the compensation offered to them,” he said.
Behind the scenes
At first, General Souvone Leuangbounmy, a military hard-liner, was supposed to be appointed governor of Xaysomboun province, but the government decided on Major General Thongloy to work out a peaceful solution, the retired soldier said.
Thongloy was not endorsed by former President Khamtay Siphandone, who has played a key role in selecting new Central Party Committee members and the 11 Politburo members. He campaigned hard before the party congress to ensure that certain candidates were elected.
“Before the 10th Party Congress, former president [Khamtay], backed by Vietnam, worked hard to get involved in the selection of the new Central Party Committee members and eliminate any pro-Chinese leaders,” the retired soldier said.
The 92-year-old worked so hard behind the scenes that he fell ill after the congress and is currently receiving medical treatment in Vietnam, he said.
“After the congress, it was clear that Mr. Khamtay still had the power and influence to decide the nation’s future and is one of only two people that can determine the destiny of the country,” he said.
Xaysomboun was once a base for thousands of ethnic minority Hmong who fought under U.S. Central Intelligence Agency advisers during a so-called “secret war” backing the Lao Royal Army against Pathet Lao communist forces.
After the communist takeover in 1975, a ragtag band of Hmong resisters hid in the jungle, fearing government persecution for having fought for the pro-American side during the war.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.