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US agents thwart planned Laos coup plot

Respected leader in the Hmong community among those arrested and charged in southern California investigation.

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The Laotian government has urged US officials to issue the most extreme punishment possible for ten men charged with conspiring to overthrow the nation's communist regime, reports the Daily Telegraph.

"This is the great news that Laos has waited for for so long," said the foreign ministry spokesman Yong Changthalansy. "We hope the United States will prosecute them strictly under the Patriot Act and punish the violators of the law severely."

The failed coup was hatched in southern California and crushed there on Monday in a series of arrests by federal agents. According to charges filed in federal court, nine ethnic Hmong and one retired lieutenant colonel from the California National Guard planned to train a militia, equip them with $9.8 million worth of weapons, smuggle them into Laos through Thailand, attack key government installations, and seat themselves as the new ruling regime, reports the Associated Press.

Investigators say former General Vang Pao, a Hmong who lead the CIA-backed Royal Army of Laos during the 1960s and 70s, developed the plot along with retired Lieutenant Colonel Harrison Ulrich Jack, a West Point graduate and Vietnam veteran. The Associated Press reports the two men's plan was ill-fated.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was in on the plot almost from the beginning because the agency was tipped off by a Phoenix-area weapons dealer. The dealer told federal agents that Jack had approached him seeking to buy 500 AK-47 automatic weapons, according to a sworn affidavit by the agent.

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On Feb. 7, the agent said he secretly recorded his luncheon meeting with Jack, Vang Pao and 10 associates at a Thai restaurant a few blocks from the state Capitol in Sacramento. They then walked to a recreational vehicle parked nearby to examine machine guns, grenade launchers, antitank rockets, antipersonnel mines and other weapons. On Feb. 15, Jack called the agent to report that the plot was "in motion," the affidavit says.

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