"They decided to starve themselves and die in prison due to the fact that they have been tortured for the last eight months without a date to be released," a Hmong rights advocate, who carried their message from the jaillike cenŽtre after they began fasting around lunchtime, said.
"The message they send to the world is, if the Thai and Lao governments desperately want this group, they may take the dead bodies when they become available; 149 Hmong refugees, including 90 chilŽdren will die in Nong Khai," he said on condition of anonymity.
"They have been locked inside the prison cells since January 30 without seeing the sun. They have been forced to drink dirty water from the bathroom for more than a month and the food is not fit for human consumption.
"Women, children and men are alike; the Thai authorities treat everyone like common criminals without a fair trial. If the international and diplomatic communities ignore such harsh treatment by the Thai authorities, then the refugees decide to die," he said.
The Hmong group resisted an attempt to expel them to Laos on January 30. Vientiane dispatched senior officials to the border province to take them back home but many of the Hmong locked themselves in their cells and threatened to commit suicide if they were deported.
Representatives of human rights groups were there to observe the drama. Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont instructed authorities to hold off the repatriation and explore the possibility of their resettlement to third counŽtries.
Australia, the United States, Canada and the Netherlands volunteered to take them, but the Hmong still remain in limbo at the centre.
The group was part of more than 7,500 Hmong taking shelter in Phetchabun's Ban Huay Nam Khao. They were arrested between October and December last year after sneaking out of the shelter to go to Bangkok. Some of them managed to get UN protection as "persons of concern".
Laos has insisted they get together with others in Ban Huay Nam Khao and opposed the idea of having a "third party" involved in the repatriation.