Govt boots out Hmong to world fury

Monday, December 28, 2009

Published: 27/12/2009 at 12:00 AM

In the face of international condemnation, the government will start an operation to clear a refugee camp in Phetchabun and repatriate more than 4,000 ethnic Hmong to Laos this evening.

More than 100 buses and trucks will be used to deport the ethnic Hmong to Laos, said a security source involved in the operation.

The government will press ahead with the forced deportation, despite opposition from the United States, the United Nations and human rights groups.

The government has insisted the repatriation plan will be carried out humanely.

Security authorities said the deportation of the ethnic Hmong is going according to plan and the people held at the Huay Nam Khao camp in Khao Kho district of Phetchabun will be moved according to schedule.

"More than 100 trucks and buses will take the Hmong from the camp to Laos on Monday morning. The first moves to clear the camp will occur on Sunday evening," a source said.

Hundreds of security officers wearing bullet-proof vests have been assigned to secure the camp since yesterday.

Mobile phone signals have been jammed to prevent the Hmong from contacting outsiders.

Third Army chief Thanongsak Apirakyothin yesterday visited the camp to inspect preparations to deport the Hmong. He said he was satisfied with the preparations.

The Hmong will be taken to Nong Khai and be driven across the Friendship Bridge into Laos.

Democrat Party spokesman Buranaj Smutharaks said the government's decision to repatriate the Hmong was based on human rights principles and international cooperation agreements and added that the government did not intend to prevent the Hmong from travelling to other countries.

"If any third-party countries agreed to receive these migrants, we would have no need to do this," he said.

Villagers at Huay Nam Khao were pleased that the camp would be closed.

They said the existence of the camp has slowed development in the village and made it difficult to make a living.

The US has asked the government to delay the deportation, but has refused to agree to a large-scale resettlement for the Hmong.

A spokesperson from the US embassy in Bangkok said the US had expressed its concern about the forced deportation, as it would involve the involuntary return of people whom both the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Thai government have identified as having concerns for their protection.

"We have encouraged the government to delay plans to proceed with a large-scale repatriation," the spokesperson said. "We have also urged the government to provide greater transparency in its screening process and emphasised that those with protection concerns should not be forced back to their homeland.

"The US has no plans for any large-scale resettlement of the Lao Hmong. However, we will consider referrals made on an individual basis by international organisations like the UNHCR," she said.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva earlier said Thailand's plan to deport the Hmong to Laos will not violate human rights issues. The repatriation would conform to international standards and Thailand would adhere to human rights rules.

Thailand had worked closely with the Lao government on the deportation and Vientiane said it would let other countries visit the Hmong upon their return to Laos, he said.

The ethnic minority Hmong in Phetchabun are seeking political asylum, claiming they face persecution from the regime in Laos because they fought alongside US forces during the Vietnam War. But Thailand and Laos have insisted they are economic migrants.


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