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Thursday, 13 February, 2003, 10:49 GMT
Laos arrests bus attack suspects
The Nam Ngum River at Vang Vieng
The bus attack took place in the tourist town Vang Vieng
The authorities in Laos have made several arrests in connection with last week's bus attack which killed 10 people, two of them Western tourists.

Lao's Deputy Foreign Minister, Phongsavath Boupha, said officials had arrested suspects who may have been motivated by "robbery, burglary, smuggling and drug trafficking", according to the Lao state news agency.

But he told ambassadors from Germany, France and the United States that the perpetrators of the attack were bandits, not terrorists, according to the report.

Local officials initially blamed the killings on ethnic Hmong rebels opposed to the Communist regime.

Eyewitnesses of the 6 February incident said that more than 20 heavily armed men were involved carried out the attack, which took place on the main north-south highway near the popular tourist town of Vang Vieng.

A Chinese businessman and seven locals were killed, when the attackers sprayed a bus with bullets.

Two Swiss nationals were also killed as they cycled past the bus.

Effect on tourism

"At the moment, police have detained some suspects... and are continuing to follow up the investigation and hunt down the offenders," the Lao foreign ministry said in a statement.

There is no information on when the arrests took place or how many suspects have been detained.

Domestic travel is convenient and safe. The Lao government at all times pays attention to the protection of life and property

Deputy Foreign Minister Phongsavath Boupha
The area around Vang Vieng used to be considered dangerous because of the risk of attacks by Hmong rebels, who allegedly carried out a spate of ambushes in the area during the 1990s.

But the attacks have lessened in recent years, encouraging an increasing flow of foreign visitors, who provide a vital source of income for Laos, one of the poorest countries in Asia.

Mr Phongsavath told a group of Western ambassadors on Tuesday that, in general, Laos enjoyed "political stability, social order and security".

"Domestic travel is convenient and safe. The Lao government at all times pays attention to the protection of life and property of the people," he stressed.

See also:

07 Feb 03 | Asia-Pacific
28 Dec 02 | Country profiles
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