Laos asked to grant access to Hmong

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya says he will ask Vientiane to give "free and unfettered" access to Lao Hmong repatriated from Thailand.

He would talk to Laos during the Mekong River Commission (MRC) meeting in Hua Hin early next month.

Mr Kasit unveiled his move after meeting European diplomats, including the envoys of the EU, Switzerland, UK, the Netherlands, and Canada yesterday.

Earlier, the European diplomats raised concerns about the fate of the 4,500 ethnic Hmong deported from Thailand to Laos last December.

The diplomats called for free and unfettered access to the Hmong returnees.

"It is now March and we have not been granted free and unfettered access, especially to the 158 Lao Hmong from Nong Khai.

"The Netherlands, the US, Canada and Australia have offered them resettlement," said EU ambassador David Lipman.

"Concerning these 158 refugees, we want to ask them about their needs, including their wishes for resettlement."

Mr Kasit said he had spoken to Lao authorities about access, but would raise the matter again at the MRC meeting.

Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam, which share the Mekong River, will meet in Hua Hin, Prachuap Khiri Khan between April 2 to 5 to discuss water resources management and other development matters.

Vientiane yesterday took about 20 diplomats, mostly based in Laos, including the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) representative and US ambassador, and a group of foreign journalists to visit the Hmong resettlement village in Borikhamxay, about 225km from the capital.

The excursion was also joined by Thai diplomats and UN officials.

Lao representatives told visitors about how the government was resettling 4,500 Hmong in the village.

Foreign diplomats asked questions to see if the Hmong would be allowed free and unrestricted contact with the outside world, including relatives, said a diplomatic source.

"The Hmong indicated that they wanted to leave Laos. Some were crying, but there was not enough time to talk in depth with the individuals."

Another diplomatic source said the visit by Western diplomats had given the Hmong hope that they would be allowed to resettle overseas.

However, he believed it was unlikely that repatriation of the 158 Hmong with so-called person of concern status would come about. "Laos has tried to put in place the necessary infrastructure and wants to see them living here rather than going elsewhere," the source said.


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