terrorist attack in laos

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    Thursday, 6 February, 2003, 13:39 GMT
    Gun attack on Laos bus

    At least 10 people, including two foreign tourists, are reported to have been killed by heavily armed gunmen who attacked a bus in Laos.
    The attack happened near the town of Vang Vieng, a well-known beauty spot about 170 kilometres (110 miles) north of the capital Vientiane.

    We believe that it was an act of terrorism

    Liporn Sonthani,
    Vang Vieng official

    As many as 20 gunmen sprayed the bus with bullets, killing at least eight Laotian passengers.

    Two foreigners - believed to be French tourists or aid workers - were also killed as they cycled past the bus at the time of the attack.

    It is still unclear who was behind the shooting, but a government spokesperson said an investigation had been launched.

    'Act of terrorism'

    The bus was travelling from the town of Kasi to Vientiane, and had slowed down to pass a small village when the attack occurred.

    New Zealand journalist Hannah Belcher told the BBC's East Asia Today that two of the bandits boarded the bus and demanded the passengers hand over their jewellery and money, before randomly shooting people.

    Ms Belcher, who is currently based in Vang Vieng, said that unconfirmed police reports blame Hmong bandits for the attack.

    Ethnic minority Hmong forces have been fighting the government ever since the current regime came to power in 1975.

    "We believe that it was an act of terrorism," local official Liporn Sonthani told the Associated Press.

    The army has closed off the roads around Vang Vieng, and the authorities are also blocking access to telephones and the internet.

    Tourists in the area are being encouraged to stay in urban centres, and not travel to the surrounding villages.

    Past violence

    Several years ago, the area around Vang Vieng was considered dangerous because of the risk of attacks by Hmong anti-government rebels.

    But the attacks have lessened in recent years, encouraging an increasing flow of foreign visitors, says the BBC south-east Asia correspondent Jonathan Head.

    Renewed fears over security could drive many tourists away, our correspondent says.

    "Tourists are frightened of what has happened, because obviously the bandits are on still on the loose," Ms Belcher told the BBC.

    Tourism has become a vital source of income for Laos, one of the poorest countries in Asia.

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