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Laos rejects monitoring of Hmong return

Laos Thursday rejected an idea suggested by Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont to have a "third party" monitor the repatriation of more than 7,500 Hmong refugees.

Lao spokesman Yong Chanthalangsy said a joint subcommittee of border security officials would discuss the issue at a meeting from September 24 in Phetchabun's Ban Huay Nam Khao, where nearly 8,000 Hmong refugees have taken shelter.

Yong was in Thailand Thursday to accompany a group of 25 Lao media representatives to a meeting with their Thai counterparts. He will also visit the 24th Universiade and observe Sunday's referendum on the draft constitution.

Surayud suggested recently that Thailand and Laos should allow a third party, possibly an Asean member, to monitor the repatriation of the Hmong. This would demonstrate transparency and respect for human rights in front of the international community, he said.

However, Yong said: "As long as the two countries can solve the problem together peacefully, we see no necessity for another party."

Hmong groups in the US and members of the Congress have voiced concern about plans to return refugees at Huay Nam Khao, because there would be no independent screening to determine who have legitimate claims to refugee status and wellfounded fears of persecution or mistreatment if returned. Vientiane has so far refused to allow any form of monitoring by the UNHCR or outside parties.

Thai military officials in Phetchabun have begun screening the 7,653 Hmong refugees who have lived in Ban Huay Nam Khao since late 2004. Many of them claim links to the United States Central Intelligence Agency's "Secret War" fighters who battled the communist Pathet Lao before the fall of Vientiane in 1975 and say they subsequently fled from oppression in their homeland.

Thai and Lao authorities regard them as illegal migrants who have sneaked into the Kingdom for economic reasons.

Those believed to be Lao would be repatriated to their places of origin. While those thought to be Thaiborn Hmong, or who went to Ban Huay Nam Khao after the closure of Saraburi's Tham Krabok camp in mid 2005, would be separated and the Thai authorities would seek new places for them to stay, a military officer said.

Yong said the repatriation would be conducted in a humanitarian manner and they would be sent back to their original homes.

"Some 1520 per cent of them might need assistance from the government as they have no relatives and have already sold their land and houses," he said.

The Lao government had prepared areas for new homes, provided construction material and would give them rice for up to 18 months after their return, he said.

Lao officials would film these preparations to show the Hmong refugees when they go to the meeting in Huay Nam Khao next month, Yong said.


Supalak Ganjanakhundee

The Nation

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