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US group 'plotted bloody coup in Laos'

London Telegraph | June 18, 2007
Catherine Elsworth

A group plotting to overthrow the Communist government of Laos hatched an elaborate 90-day plan to oust and possibly assassinate the country's leaders by bombing official buildings and shooting down aircraft, according to US court documents.

The 18 pages of documents, entitled Operation Popcorn: A Comprehensive Plan of Action, disclosed that the California-based would-be revolutionaries outlined a $28 million (£14 million) budget for Stinger missiles, AK-47 rifles and local mercenaries to topple the Laos government before shutting off access to the country.

They then planned to establish martial law in the capital, Vientian, using around 1,000 security forces, before bringing democracy to the country.

The audacious plan came to light after last week's arrest in the US of an 11th suspect, Dang Vang, 48, a member of California's Hmong community and the author of Operation Popcorn, according to prosecutors.

Vang and nine other members of California's Hmong community as well as a former California National Guard official have been arrested in connection with the plot to topple the government, which has persecuted the US-sympathising Hmong since the end of the Vietnam War.

Vang Pao, 77, a former general in the Royal Army of Laos who led CIA-backed counter insurgents during the Vietnam War, and Lt Col Harrison Jack, a retired California National Guard, were the alleged masterminds.

Jack allegedly told an undercover investigator that they had the support of the CIA, which was "standing by and ready to roll" to ensure the coup's success.

The Popcorn plot - Political Opposition Party's Coup Operation to Rescue the Nation - planned to mobilise a network of underground sympathisers in the south-east Asian country to "neutralise trusted government leaders". Thailand was to be the unwitting launch pad for the coup.

Pao and his co-defendants face charges of conspiracy to violate the Neutrality Act, which bars Americans from taking military action against nations with which the US is at peace. They were also accused of conspiracy to kill, kidnap and maim. All face life in prison if convicted.

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