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A Laos-y double-cross
Government 'nationalizes' lucrative mining operation, imprisons Australians

Posted: January 4, 2001
1:00 a.m. Eastern

Editor’s note: WorldNetDaily.com international correspondent Anthony LoBaido has previously documented the plight of the persecuted Hmong tribesmen of Laos -- including former CIA Special Forces soldiers who fought side-by-side with American soldiers during the Vietnam war. In this update, LoBaido describes how the Lao government, in forcibly taking over a lucrative Western mining operation, is biting the hand that feeds it while threatening foreign nationals with death.

By Anthony LoBaido
© 2001 WorldNetDaily.com

The communist government of Laos, after "nationalizing" a large Western mining company operating within its borders, has imprisoned a former member of Australia's elite military forces -- who was involved in providing security for the company -- and his wife.

The current economic situation in Laos is grim. A giant portion of the Lao economy comes from foreign aid from the West, European Union and United Nations. As such, the cash-strapped Stalinist government of Laos has followed in the footsteps of mineral-rich, Third World nations like Angola, Sierra Leone, Papua New Guinea and others by allowing Western transnational corporations – guarded by elite special forces mercenaries – to develop, harvest and guard the Laotian mineral treasure chest -- all for a fee, of course.

Yet the government of Laos, fearful of capitalism and the growing discontent of the masses within its borders, has double-crossed a Western mining giant. In fact, the communist leaders of Laos have done the unthinkable. They have seized the assets of a sapphire-mining company, promised to summarily execute the leaders of the company and have thrown an Australian ex-Special Air Service officer in prison for his role in directing the security operations around the entire endeavor.

Such complicated operations are now typical in the Third World. Operations in Angola, Sierra Leone and Papua New Guinea conducted by Executive Outcomes -- the apartheid-era mercenary army and the largest private military on Earth -- have produced mixed results. In Angola, the anti-communist UNITA forces barely survived the onslaught of Executive Outcomes. President Bill Clinton ordered Executive Outcomes out of that nation and warned the communist leadership of Angola that they wouldn’t be granted United Nations membership unless they hired a Virgina-based mercenary consulting firm.

In Sierra Leone, Executive Outcomes briefly brought peace to that troubled nation and the attention of "60 Minutes." After EO pulled out, Sierra Leone fell once again into anarchy.

"This is a very big story," said Donald Scott, a Florida-based liaison for the exiled royal family of Laos. "The U.S. media and government has shut up; Laos has shut up; and Australia has shut up all like clams. The heart of the story is all about money and a lot of it, like as much as $100 million, maybe more. It's all greed, simple greed, but this time, Laos has gone too far. They never expected this, I'm sure of that," he told WorldNetDaily.

"Laos has been allowed to get away with this kind of garbage for years, and the donor nations just turn a blind eye to it. Their day in the sun is over. It's time they got shut down. … We need to keep this issue alive in the next Congress. Congress must cut Laos off from all cash sources worldwide. After all, the whole politburo has homes in Paris and money in Switzerland. What else do they need?" Scott asked.

Meanwhile, the Hmong resistance movement in Laos has continued its fight in the northern part of that nation.

The relationship between the Hmong people of Laos and the nation of Australia is well documented. Hmong and Australian soldiers, along with many South Koreans, fought alongside American troops during the Vietnam conflict. After the war, the royal family of Laos was exiled to France, while scores of Hmong – victims of a conventional and biochemical genocide -- were given new freedom in Australia, the UK, the U.S., France and other Western nations. "The Hmong keep securing one win after another. Nevertheless, it is costly for them in lives," said Scott. "Vietnam, with her 10,000 troops there, is seeing to that. But no one seems to care. It's time we put a stop to this kind of foolishness, and the press is the answer."

Bernie Jeppesen, the Danish founder of Gem Mining Lao PDR Co., and his wife, Julie Bruns, a citizen of New Zealand, were forced out of Laos in May 2000. This occurred after the communist Lao government took over their mine under the pretense of "nationalization" and promised to jail, torture and then execute them. Gem Mining Lao has been digging in Laos for five years in Bokeo province in the northwest corner of the country. The registered owners of GML include a U.S. citizen named Somkhit Vilavong.

About 450 Lao nationals who worked as security guards for Gem Mining Lao were fired upon nationalization of the company.

According to Scott, "The Lao government, upon takeover of the mines and nationalizing them, released the employees as assets of GML. Then they nationalized the company’s bank accounts. GML was the largest mining company in Laos … prior to nationalization."

GML's security guards were trained in Vientiane, Laos' capital, by security experts from Jardine Securicor Gurkha Services, a company that employs 9,000 security guards around Asia. Securicor has 70 clients in all, mostly international companies, including the majority of embassies in Vientiane. Both the brand new international and various domestic airports, the Lao Plaza Hotel, Settha Palace Hotel and many garment factories utilize guards from Securicor.

But the main responsibility for security at the mine rested with another entity – Lao Securicor, a satellite branch under the Jardine Matheson Holding Ltd., based in Hong Kong. The top man in the security realm of the GML mine is 42-year-old Kerry Danes, the general manager of Lao Securicor. Danes was thrown in jail last Christmas Eve. Danes’ wife Kay, 33, was also jailed. Both are Australian citizens.

Danes, however, is no ordinary Australian businessman. Rather, he is on leave from his post in the elite SAS, or Special Air Service, akin to the U.S. SEALS and Delta Force.

Danes had turned down several promotions in the SAS because he wanted to be a survival-training instructor. After the infamous Blackhawk helicopter crash -- which killed many SAS commandos in Townsville, Australia, a few years back -- Danes worked with the survivors of the program to revitalize it. Most of Australia’s elite soldiers were killed in a nighttime training exercise when two helicopters collided.

Now Danes is being held as a foreign agent by the Lao secret police.

"The latest report is, they're going to charge Kerry as a spy, which is a load of poppycock, and they'll probably execute him. It's got to that stage over there if somebody right up high doesn't get involved," said Danes' father-in-law, Ernie Stewart.

According to Stewart, Mrs. Danes told her mother by mobile telephone on Christmas morning: "Mum, I think by tomorrow I'll be dead."

Mr. Danes has not been seen since Dec. 24, when he was arrested. Reportedly, he was not given food or water for three days. He was detained while trying to flee Laos with his two children and $50,000 in cash. The Laos government has claimed the couple "misappropriated funds."

Danes’ two children, Nathan, age 7, and Sahra, aged 11, were released to the custody of the Australian Embassy at the request of the Australian ambassador and consulate officials. The Australian authorities in Laos then arranged their return to Australia.

Speaking about the imprisonment of Danes and the entire fiasco at the mine, Jeppesen is resolute.

"When you're talking millions of dollars, people get greedy,'' Jeppesen said, adding that "a bunch of gangsters'' leaned on the Lao government to shut down his operation.

"Asia Sapphires is the company working with the Lao government trying to take over GML. They are, apparently, the bad guys," added Scott.

Jeppesen has now launched a $100 million lawsuit in the U.S. against the Lao government. He claims that South Koreans, Americans, Canadians, fellow Australians and some British citizens had formed a Bangkok-based cabal to pressure the Lao government to shut down his operation. Apparently, a South Korean mining firm has replaced GML. Jeppesen said that Danes was entangled in the aforementioned bid to take over the mining operation.

How this entire sordid affair will affect the Lao communist government, its relationship with Australia and Western transnational corporations remains to be seen.

As for the Danes, as of this writing, their fate hangs in the balance. A website has been set up to update interested parties on their status.

Related stories:

The great betrayal

'Killing fields,' mines and martyrs

Fear and loathing in Vietnam

Cold War alive, battles in Africa

In Africa, diamond profits are forever

Anthony C. LoBaido is a longtime contributor to WorldNetDaily.com who lives in St. Louis. Visit his blog at purejournalism.blogspot.com.

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