UNHCR looks for 'dialogue' with Laos over Hmong

Thursday, January 28, 2010

HANOI — The UN refugee agency said Thursday it still has had no access to thousands of ethnic Hmong expelled from Thailand to Laos last month but was looking for "constructive dialogue" with Lao officials on the matter.

Bangkok sparked outrage in late December when it defied global criticism and used troops to forcibly repatriate about 4,500 Hmong from camps on the border with communist Laos.

Thailand broke international law by sending back 158 of the Hmong recognised by the United Nations as refugees, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has said.

"So far we have not had any access but we are looking for a constructive dialogue with the Lao government," UNHCR regional spokeswoman Kitty McKinsey told AFP by telephone.

She refused all further comment.

All of the repatriated Hmong have been returned to their original homes or resettled in new villages, the Lao government spokesman, Khenthong Nuanthasing, said on Wednesday.

Rights advocates have voiced fear the returnees would face persecution but a diplomatic source said there had been no reports of mistreatment, although some had complained about living conditions in the new villages.

Foreign embassies seeking access to the returnees have been told they must wait until the Hmong settle in to their new surroundings.

Khenthong said that the group of 158 had also gone back to their homes or to the new villages.

"To my knowledge, up to now no one requested for resettlement in a third country," he said.

The United States, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands had offered to resettle the 158.

The Hmong, a Southeast Asian ethnic group, were seeking asylum in Thailand, saying they risked persecution by the Lao regime for fighting alongside US forces in the Vietnam War during the 1960s and 1970s.

Thailand and Laos both say the Hmong were illegal economic immigrants.


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