A Blackbird's Song

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Ka Ying Yang says that he lingered briefly at the site where his girlfriend had died and then agreed to act as Va Char's armed escort out of the mountains. In the final scene of the film, which Va Char says took place on June 13, the entire community is on the move. Ka Ying Yang, off camera, says goodbye to his sister. "I told her our parents were dead and we had no future," he told TIME. "I said I was doing it so that she didn't end up like Mao Lee." Three days after leaving the camp, Va Char and Ka Ying reached the edge of the jungle and made contact with some Blackbirds. Then they separated. Va Char took his motorbike ride through the night to the border. Ka Ying made the same journey in a car with three Blackbirds. It was, he says, the first time he had moved without using his feet. He was sick all the way.

At her confirmation hearings in Washington last April, Patricia Haslach, the new U.S. ambassador to Laos, said: "First and foremost, I will continue to press the Lao government to respect the rights of its ethnic groups, especially the Hmong population that continues to reside in remote areas of the country." The U.S. is concerned that incidents such as that alleged by Va Char may occur from time to time, not as a consequence of government policy but because Lao soldiers know there will be no censure for their actions. In a statement, the U.S. State Department said that it had no "independent information about the alleged atrocity" described by Va Char but that "such allegations are serious, and we of course will look into them and respond appropriately." The statement went on to urge the Lao government to launch a "serious investigation of this alleged incident." The Lao official to whom TIME spoke said that "of course an investigation will be launched if this tape [is] proved to be true." Asked if foreign observers would be able to monitor such an investigation, he said that it would have to remain confidential.

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