Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Writer: ACHARA ASHAYAGACHAT
Published: 30/07/2009 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: News
A senior US official will visit a Hmong camp in Phetchabun today after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed concerns over the plight of Hmong refugees in Thailand.
Samuel Witten, principal deputy assistant to the secretary of state in charge of the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, yesterday discussed the Hmong and Burmese refugees with the head of the Foreign Affairs Ministry's International Organisations Department, Anuson Chinwanno, and held talks with Thawil Pliensri, the new secretary-general of the National Security Council.
Mr Witten will be the most senior official from the US to visit the Phetchabun camp, which houses about 4,700 Hmongs.
Last week, 97 Hmongs were sent back to Laos as part of the Thai-Lao agreement to repatriate all volunteer Hmongs to Laos this year. Mr Witten will also visit the Burmese refugee camp at Ban Mae La, in Tak's Tha Song Yang district tomorrow.
Mrs Clinton last week raised the Hmong issue during talks with Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
She was concerned about the repatriation process being conducted on a truly voluntary basis. She also suggested a screening mechanism to identify refugees by neutral parties such as the UN refugee agency, sources said. However, Mr Abhisit said Thailand, although not a signatory to the refugee convention, had respected the international obligations .
The Hmong helped the US Central Intelligence Agency fight the communist Pathet Lao movement before the fall of Vientiane in 1975 and later sought political asylum and resettlement in third countries.
They fear being persecuted if they return to Laos.