Hmong Leader Announces Trip to Laos

FRESNO, Calif. Two years after his arrest for allegedly plotting to overthrow the Laotian government, /*General Vang Pao*/ got an official welcome home celebration. This will be his first Hmong New Year since the federal government dismissed the charges and Hmong community leaders say the celebration was a chance for the general to say thanks. "Even though it was such a bad situation, it brought all of the people together. And that's why he's here, to say he's home, he's alright, he wants to thank people for believing in him," said Paula Yang, a member of the Hmong American Ad Hoc Committee.

Hmong people from all over the U.S. are in Fresno this week, preparing for the largest Hmong celebration in the country. Meanwhile, back in Laos, there are thousands of Hmong people still living in the jungles, under constant fear of attack by communist forces. More are living in refugee camps in Thailand. Next month, General Vang Pao is planning on going back to Laos in an effort to bring end the persecution of his people. Considering the charges he once faced, the trip may seem like a shock to some, but not to many of his people, who have grown up admiring the general for his service and leadership. "He's not going to live there, obviously, just making peace for his people. He said, in his words, I will live for my people, I will die for my people ... " said Paula Yang.

Congressman Jim Costa also attended the general's welcome home celebration. He called General Vang Pao's upcoming trip an important milestone, especially considering his influence on his people. "He's an important contributor to trying to establish a long term peace," said Costa.

The Hmong New Year celebration begins on Saturday and continues through January 2. After that, the general plans to travel to Laos on January 10.

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