WESTMINSTER, Calif. — "The General," now 79, no longer commands battalions of Hmong guerrilla fighters or the fawning attention of U.S. lawmakers and heads of state.
For years, Gen. Vang Pao has made his headquarters in a ranch-style home on an Orange County cul-de-sac. It's a world away from Long Chieng, the secret CIA base in the mountains of northern Laos known as "Spook Heaven," where he lived from 1963 to 1975, waging war on Lao and Vietnamese communists with his jungle army of Hmong and Iu Mien warriors.
The face of Hmong people worldwide holds court here on his beige sofa, his brown eyes still shooting fire, his will and wits unblunted by a barrage of health and legal problems.
His former patron, the U.S. government, charged him and 10 others in June 2007 with plotting the violent overthrow of their old enemy, communist Laos.
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After a six-month undercover investigation known as Operation Tarnished Eagle, more than 200 federal agents and police fanned out to arrest Vang and 10 other suspects.
The federal indictment filed in Sacramento accuses them of conspiracy to "kill, kidnap and maim" by financing a mercenary force armed with AK-47s, Stinger and anti-tank missiles, rocket-propelled grenades, Claymore mines and other explosives.
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