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Minister released from Laos prison calls for investigation of human rights abuses
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Rev. Naw-Karl Mua and two European journalists were arrested after being caught in a firefight between the rebels and Laotian soldiers. (MPR Photo/Marisa Helms)
Rev. Naw-Karl Mua, the St. Paul pastor recently released from a Laotian prison, says he wants the U.S. government to help Hmong rebels living in the jungle. On Saturday Mua spoke publicly for the first time since his release at a press conference in Maplewood.

Maplewood, Minn. — Mua told reporters, congregants and supporters that he couldn't see them very well. Laotian soldiers took his eyeglasses and his wedding ring. They also threw him in jail, sentencing him to 15 years for his alleged involvement in the death of a village guard.

He says he was at peace in prison. He felt like an angel of God for the other Hmong prisoners. He says he was not beaten and that his imprisonment was not as harsh as it was for the other Hmong held with him. He credits his citizenship and his faith for keeping him safe.

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Image The Mua family

"First of all, I want to thank God for having protected me from the Communist persecution and giving me the strength to endure the unbearable hardship during my arrest and imprisonment," he said.

Mua and two European journalists were arrested after being caught in a firefight between the rebels and Laotian soldiers. Mua says everyone scattered when the shooting started. He hid in the forest for 30 hours with no food or water before surrendering to the soldiers.

He says he doesn't know if anyone was killed in the incident. But the Laotian government arrested Mua and the journalists for allegedly killing a guard during the shootout.

At the press conference, Mua thanked the U.S. government for the diplomatic efforts leading to his release.

His family had to pay about $2,500 to free him. Another condition, says Mua, was that he admit to the killing.

"I did not admit, but my ambassador might have admitted, because I saw him sign some sort of paper in order for me to be released, and I am very grateful for that," he said.

Mua says he was fed small amounts of rice each day in prison. But he says the most painful aspect of his time in Laos was seeing the immense poverty of the Hmong people and their oppression at the hands of the Laotian communist government. He says there are tens of thousands of Hmong hiding in the jungle. These Hmong families are the remnants of a CIA army that fought Communist forces during the Vietnam War.

Mua says they have nothing to eat but root vegetables. He says they are systematically arrested, tortured and killed by Laotian soldiers. Mua says while he's grateful for his release, he has nightmares and worries about the people he left behind.

"I need the U.S. government to do two things right away: one is to stop the Laotian government from killing our people. The other thing is, if the Hmong are not needed in Laos, the U.S. government could do something and open the door for us to go in to send food and clothing to them, and we can take them away with us."

Mua's 17-year-old daughter, Magnolia, says she never worried about her father while he was away. "When we first heard it I wasn't that worried, because I know that my dad's strong, he's not easily faltered, or whatever, so I figure that he's strong, he can pull through anything, and he's a smart guy."

Mua says God is calling him to do something about the Hmong in Laos, though he says he's not sure what that will mean.

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