Thai military campaign targets refugees

Friday, July 31, 2009

Hmong refugees at Huay Nam Khao camp in Petchabun province have become victims of what seems to be a Thai military psy-ops campaign geared at coercing them to return to Laos - a violation of international law.

The military has so far not resorted to physical force but has instead been using an extreme amount of psychological coercion to get the remaining 4,000 Hmong refugees to return to Laos.

Last week, the army erected an additional four razor wire barriers around the camp, forcing a significant number of residents, out of their homes. The targeted group happens to be first on the list for forced repatriation at the end of September.

On July 25, the military encouraged a group of roughly 200 angry Thai protestors to rally outside the camp to psychologically coerce the refugees to return to Laos. The local media and district officials all showed up at the same time as the protestors, remaining for the one-hour staged event.

Just days before the rally, witnesses in nearby Khet Noi village reported seeing soldiers trying to get recruits for the rally by offering them Bt500 and a kilo of pork as incentives. Even then, Thai-Hmong villagers refused to get involved.

The military and chaperoned media reported a very conflicting version of events than what the refugees witnessed. The army and media stated there was a mob of 500 angry Thai-Hmong villagers, but Hmong in the camp claim only 20-30 of the protestors were Hmong. The vast majority was Thai and possibly relatives of the military personnel stationed there. Some of the Hmong protestors even apologised to the refugees for having participated because they needed the money. Amazingly, two of the protestors reportedly work in the camp for the NGO COEER, which has a contract to distribute food there. One of the two reportedly works for the military in Khet Noi village.

The protestors have threatened the refugees, saying they'll return on August 7 for another rally. If the Hmong still refuse to return to Laos, they will return a third time and ask the military to forcibly deport them all. The army has told the refugees that Lao General Bouasieng [Champaphanh] will visit the camp on August 7 to encourage them to return to Laos. The military is encouraging those Hmong with legitimate grievances to address them to General Bouasieng during his visit but at the same time cautions them, stating: "Don't mention anything about your problems in the jungle [Lao military attacks] to him".



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