Wednesday, February 24, 2010
HANOI, Feb 24 (AFP) - Thai and US officials will get access on Friday to a newly built village in Laos where thousands of ethnic Hmong have been housed after their expulsion from Thailand in December.
Rights groups and foreign embassies have been seeking access to the returnees to ensure they are being properly treated.
The visit is a way "to show our sincerity in good treatment" of the Hmong, Laos government spokesman Khenthong Nuanthasing told AFP on Wednesday.
Bangkok sparked outrage in December when it defied global criticism and used troops to repatriate about 4,500 Hmong from camps on the border with communist Laos, including 158 recognised as refugees by the United Nations.
Thailand and Laos both said the Hmong, who fear persecution for fighting alongside US forces in the Vietnam War, were illegal economic immigrants.
Khenthong said officials from the United States embassy will join the Thai military, foreign affairs officials and reporters on the visit to Ponkham village.
The spokesman said that "the Thai government has rendered good cooperation to the Laos government so we should allow them to inspect the site first".
In Bangkok, Thai foreign ministry deputy spokesman Thani Thongpakdi said: "A group of army officials and representatives from the foreign ministry, together with the press, will go to Vientiane and Ponkham on 25-26 February to follow up the sending back."
According to the Vientiane Times, Ponkham village is being built in Bolikhamxay province to house about 3,000 returned Hmong.
Human rights groups have expressed concern for the safety of the returnees but diplomats say there have been no reports of mistreatment. US congressmen earlier visited some of the repatriated group.