Hmong say they won't go back

Friday, August 7, 2009

Published: 8/08/2009 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: News

Hmong children at Ban Huay Nam Khao camp in Phetchabun province listen to a speech given by a visiting senior Lao government official who yesterday tried to persuade around 4,700 Hmong to return to Laos. PATTANAPONG HIRUNAR

PHETCHABUN : Leaders of the Lao Hmong refugees insist they will not go back to Laos despite assurances from the Lao government they will be safe.

Ka, one of the Hmong leaders at Ban Huay Nam Khao camp in Khao Kho district, yesterday said the Hmong did not want to return to Laos as they feared they would be persecuted.

The Hmong helped the US Central Intelligence Agency fight the communist Pathet Lao movement in Laos before Vientiane fell in 1975 and later sought political asylum and resettlement in third countries.

The 37-year-old Hmong leader also called on the UN refugee agency and the US government to help solve the problem of thousands of Hmong staying at the army-run camp.

"We don't want to go to Laos, but we can't stay here [in Thailand] either," he said. "We are waiting for the United States to take us to stay with our relatives in America."

Tai-lao, another Hmong leader at the camp, said he did not believe the Lao government's promise to give them freedom and a good quality of life.

He would be arrested if he returned to Laos, said Mr Tai-lao.

The Hmong were speaking after a visit by senior Lao officers to the camp yesterday to try to persuade about 4,700 Hmong to return to Laos. Two Hmong who have left the Thai camp and already settled in Laos also came to talk to their fellows about their lives being safe and sound after returning home.

Buaxieng Champaphan, co-chairman of the Thai-Lao general border sub-committee, told the Hmong no criminal charges would be brought against them if they returned home.

"I know some Hmong are involved in the drug trade and don't want to go back to their country, but the government promises that they will face no charges," he said.

Hmong who agree to go back to Laos would be paid 300,000 kip (1,200 baht) each, Brig Gen Buaxieng said, adding that the Lao government expects that all Hmong at Ban Huay Nam Khao would return by year-end.

The officer hoped the Hmong would be convinced by his speech and would soon decide to leave the camp.

"But whether we achieve that goal or not also depends on the Thai government's handling of the matter," he said.

Brig Gen Buaxieng's visit to the camp came only a week after a senior US official went there after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed concern over the plight of Hmong refugees in Thailand.

Mrs Clinton raised the Hmong issue in talks with Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on her trip to Bangkok to participate in the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations meeting last month.

General Worapong Sa-nganet, deputy chief of staff overseeing the Hmong issue, said relevant agencies would discuss the repatriation operation if they failed to send all the Hmong back to Laos by the end of this year.

However, he expected more Hmong would decide to be repatriated after listening to the Lao government's policy.

US embassy deputy chief of mission James Entwistle, who also visited the Hmong camp yesterday, said the US had no plan for a large-scale resettlement programme for the camp's residents.

Standard US policy worldwide is to accept applications on a case by case basis and referrals of vulnerable individuals received from international humanitarian organisations, normally the UNHCR, he said.


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