The Associated Press is reporting today that Vang Pao, the former leader of the CIA's secret army in Laos whose war on Communism ended when he and tens of thousands of fellow Hmong fled the country in 1975, has died.
Until recently a resident of a modest house in Westminister, Vang reportedly died on Thursday afternoon at a hospital near Fresno of complications from pneumonia, which he contracted while attending New Year festivities in Northern California. Revered among ethnic Hmong refugees throughout the United States, Vang was nonetheless a controversial figure during his lifetime thanks to allegations that he executed his own followers during the war and also played a role in the region's thriving heroin business.
At the time of his death, the 81-year-old Vang left behind an extensive family, including more than 30 children. He had been in ill health for years, a condition that worsened after his 2007 arrest for his alleged role in a plot to overthrow the Laotian government. Vang was the focus of an OC Weekly cover story about the strange plot, which involved a rather quixotic effort to ship weapons to a ragtag band of Hmong guerrillas. The U.S. government discovered the plot and quickly infiltrated the operation when Vang's co-defendants tried to to purchase the weaponry in Northern California. Several other defendants have pleaded not guilty to the charges and have yet to be prosecuted, but in 2009, Vang was cleared of any wrongdoing. You can read the rest of the AP story here.