Tue, Jun 24, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Thailand sends 800 Hmong back to Laos after protest

AFP , BANGKOK

Thailand has sent 800 members of the Hmong ethnic minority back to Laos, an official said yesterday, despite international concern that the hill tribe could face persecution back home.

Colonel Somchai Chaipanich, from the northern region where the Hmong are detained, said the group was deported on Sunday after thousands of Hmong tried to march out of a makeshift camp in Phetchabun Province.

“Those 800 Hmong volunteered to return to Laos themselves. They wanted to go home,” Somchai said, adding that the latest repatriations left about 6,000 Hmong in the camp near the border with Laos.

The Bangkok Post newspaper said thousands of Hmong marched on Friday to highlight their plight, but riot police blocked their path, put up to 600 Hmong in jail and forcibly sent some of the rally leaders back to Laos.

Somchai confirmed that about 4,000 Hmong marched out of the camp, but he refused to give any other details about the incident.

He said the next group from Huay Nam Khao camp, which once was home to about 8,000 Hmong, would likely be sent back to Laos next week.

The Thai government insists the Hmong are economic migrants using Thailand as a base to seek refugee status and travel to rich countries.

But Hmong activists, international human rights groups and the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, have warned that some of the Hmong could be at risk of persecution in communist Laos.

US lawmakers this month introduced legislation asking Thailand to suspend repatriation of the Hmong and to provide UNHCR access to those seeking asylum.

The Hmong fought alongside US forces in the 1960s and 1970s when the Vietnam War spilled into Laos. After the war ended in 1975, many fled to the jungles fearing the communist authorities would hunt them down.

Last month a fire at the camp in Phetchabun destroyed hundreds of makeshift homes. At the time, Somchai said the fire could have been set by Hmong trying to avoid repatriation to Laos.

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