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Gunmen Kill 12 in Laos Rebel Region

April 21, 2003 GMT

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) _ Gunmen opened fire at a bus in northern Laos, killing at least 12 people and injuring 30 others in an attack officials with the communist government blamed on Hmong rebels, officials said Monday.

The bus carrying about 65 people was sprayed with bullets from both sides Sunday morning as it traveled on Route 13 highway between the resort town of Luang Prabang and the capital Vientiane, said a Lao government official, speaking on condition of anonymity. The assailants then fled into the countryside.

``The authorities believe that the attackers were not robbers. They shot at the bus to create confusion. They did not take any property from the passengers,″ said the official, contacted by telephone in Vientiane.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but the official said it appeared to be an attempt by Hmong rebels to embarrass the government. The regime had announced two weeks ago that the area was safe for traveling after a similar gun attack on vehicles on the highway in February had left 10 people dead, including two Swiss.

Hmong rebels have been fighting from remote mountainous regions against the government since it came to power in 1975, but resistance has waned over the past decade, and it is unclear whether the rebels maintain a political agenda. Laos is one of Asia’s poorest countries.

According to initial reports 12 people including a 10-year-old boy were killed, and 30 others were injured. The seriously wounded were taken to a military hospital and the remaining treated at two other hospitals in Vientiane, the official said.

Sunday’s attack occurred at the border of Luang Prabang and Viengchan provinces, about 130 miles north of Vientiane. The February attack took place 20 miles to the south.

Bandits have also staged attacks in the area.

The secretive communist government of Laos gives little information about the rare incidents of unrest in the country.

At least nine unexplained bombings rocked the normally languid Vientiane in 2000 and early 2001, killing at least one woman and injuring dozens of people.

No one has claimed responsibility and the government has not identified any suspects or offered any explanation.