Vang Sen, leader of Hmong in Phetchabun's Ban Huay Nam Khao shelter, said: "I think the lives of Hmong here will be in trouble. Assistance from relatives in the US will be affected, as it would be under close surveillance of both the Thai and US authorities."
Vang Sen said he was a nephew of Vang Pao and a former fighter for the US Central Intelligence Agency, who fought the Communist Pathet Laos before the fall of Vientiane in 1975. While his uncle resettled in the US more than 30 years ago, Vang Sen says he was left in the jungle, but fled recently to Thailand.
Late yesterday, it seemed his fears were well-founded. Two Hmong men who refused to sign documents giving consent to forced deportation to Laos were severely beaten in nearby Khao Kor jail, according to a Hmong rights advocate who telephoned from the US.
Lee Pao Vang had to be taken to hospital after he and colleague Vang Meng Lee were bashed by Thai officials, Joe Davy told The Nation.
The pair were among 36 Hmong in the jail. Most had fled jungle areas near Vang Vieng and were part of a group led by Blia Shoua Her, who is in Nong Khai Immigration Detention Centre (IDC), he said.
Two of the group have UN status - Theng Lor, 26, and his wife Yer Lee. They have three young children, all under 10, who are in Nong Khai IDC. Theng Lor tried to take his own life several months ago, so there are major concerns about him, Davy said.
"We fear they are treating them more harshly due to Vang Pao," he said. "The Thai and Lao authorities may be trying to legitimise strong-arm tactics with the refugees. It seems to have started already with the beating of these two at Khao Kor."
Some of the Hmong due to be sent back had already been accepted by third countries for resettlement, Davy said.
Thailand has sheltered more than 7,000 Hmong in Phetchabun for several years. Most claim they were associates with the CIA "secret war" and fled from suppression at home in the hope of being resettled overseas.
Thailand and Laos regard the group as illegal migrants who were victims of human trafficking, not fighters. Lao spokesman Yong Chantalangsy said his government was ready to take them back once Thai authorities finish screening them.
"We agreed in principle that whoever came from Laos would be repatriated sooner or later," Yong told The Nation.
Lao officials are monitoring the Vang Pao trial in the US closely and will consult with Thai authorities on reactions and movements of Hmong in the Kingdom, he said.