US urges Laos to release 158 Hmong refugees

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

HANOI — The United States has urged Laos to allow 158 minority Hmong people, who are internationally recognised as refugees, to leave the country, a US senator said Wednesday after talks in the communist nation.

Senator Al Franken said he spoke "at some length" during his visit to the country this week with the Laotian deputy foreign minister.

"We certainly urged them to get the documents of these 158 people so they can go to the countries the UN said they can go to," Franken, of Minnesota, told reporters during a visit to Vietnam with two other senators.

Thailand faced international criticism in December when it used troops to forcibly repatriate about 4,500 Hmong back to Laos, despite concerns of persecution on their return.

Thailand insisted all the Hmong were illegal economic migrants, although the United Nations recognised 158 of them as refugees, and was never allowed to assess if the thousands of others needed international protection.

The 158 have been offered resettlement in Canada, the United States, Australia and the Netherlands, but authorities in Laos told embassies earlier this year that the group wanted to stay.

Franken said talks with Laos were continuing on the issue, which would be on the agenda when the country's foreign minister talks with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington within the month.

The Hmong's fear of retribution from the Laotian regime is a lingering remnant of the Vietnam War, when members of the ethnic hill tribe fought in a US-funded irregular army as the conflict spilled into Laos.

Diplomats said earlier this year there had been no reports that the repatriated Hmong had been mistreated.


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