BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) – Nearly 200 members of a Hmong hill tribe surrendered to authorities early today after decades on the run in Laotian jungles, a move that heralds a possible end to a tragic legacy of the Vietnam War.

U.S. sympathizers traveling with the 170 women, children and old men said they were received warmly when they arrived around dawn in Laos’ Xieng Khouang province to turn themselves in and reintegrate into society.

The group emerged at the village of Chong Thuang, said Ed Szendrey, a pro-Hmong activist from the United States who met up with them in hopes of helping ensure their safety.

The Hmong were recruited by the CIA to fight on behalf of a pro-American government during the Vietnam War, only to find themselves all but abandoned after their communist enemies won a long civil war and began to single party rule of the poor, landlocked country.

Many managed to flee into Thailand, and later resettled in the United States and elsewhere, but thousands stayed behind, some adjusting to the new regime and others staying in the jungle, where they faced continuing attacks by the government.

Little reliable information about their fate emerged until late 2002, when two Western journalists working for Time magazine made contact with one of the Hmong groups, and came out with startling photographs and stories of their desperate existence.

Szendrey said the initial official reception for those surrendering Saturday was warm and relaxed and that the police chief said the military had been told to stand down.

“It looks like the government is prepared to handle it on the local level and not get the military involved,” said Szendrey. “It looks like the Lao government is actually handling it pretty well.”


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