Vietnam vet to get US honors after burial snub

LOS ANGELES - A legendary Hmong general who led a CIA-backed "secret army" in the Vietnam war is to be honored at Arlington National Cemetery on Friday, three months after a burial snub, organizers said.

In a move hailed by his family, a US Army honor guard will join the ceremony for General Vang Pao and other veterans at Arlington, after US authorities refused to allow him to be buried there following his death in January.

"It is honorable that (US authorities) have granted official permission to hold a memorial service," said Philip Smith, director of the Center for Public Policy Analysis (CPPA), who backed the push for an Arlington burial outside Washington.

"General Vang Pao's family is also very pleased at the good news from Arlington National Cemetery and the US Army," he added, saying Vang Pao's son Chong Vang will speak at the ceremony on behalf of the family.

The 81-year-old general died on January 6 in California, and was buried near Los Angeles on February 9 after efforts failed to persuade US authorities to allow his burial at Arlington, final resting place of US military heroes.

At Friday's ceremony a US Army wreath-bearer and bugler will help "honor the Laotian and Hmong veterans, and their American military and clandestine advisors .. during the Vietnam War," said organizers.

They will lay a wreath at the Lao Veterans of America monument, inside the Arlington cemetery.

The event is being co-sponsored by the Lao Veterans of America Institute (LVAI), the Lao Veterans of America, Inc., members of the US Congress, and the US Department of Defense, according to a joint organizers' statement.

After Vang Pao's death, supporters appealed to bury Vang Pao as a hero at Arlington. The Pentagon said no, arguing that the limited spaces at Arlington were reserved for US combat veterans.

US intelligence agents tapped Vang Pao when they sought a force in Laos to fight off North Vietnamese communists, who along with the United States had turned the neighboring country into a battleground.

Vang Pao became legendary for his organizational skills from his mountain post, guiding everything from US air strikes to medical supplies and managing a motley army of Hmong, lowland Lao and Thai mercenaries.

North Vietnam triumphed in 1975 by seizing Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, and communists afterward took over Laos. Vang Pao was sentenced to death in absentia and became the leader for some 250,000 Hmong who moved to the United States.

But Vang Pao remained a controversial figure. In 2007, he was arrested in California on charges of plotting to overthrow a foreign government after an undercover agent tried to sell him weapons at a Thai restaurant. Prosecutors dropped their charges in 2009.