01/31/2007, 00.00
THAILAND - LAOS
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Thailand stops forced repatriation of 153 Hmong

Refugees were supposed to go back to Laos, but 50 threatened suicide. Thai premier suspends forced repatriation when some Western countries accept to take them in.

Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Thailand has said it will not go ahead with plans to send more than 150 Hmong refugees back to neighbouring Laos as a result of international pressure and threats by dozens of refugees to commit suicide.

The migrants, held at the Nong Khai detention centre in northern Thailand near the Laotian border since December for illegally entering the kingdom, had been due to be sent back on Tuesday, but 54 of them barricaded themselves in the centre and threatened to kill themselves. For them going back meant certain persecution.

The UNHCR, which has been denied access to the Hmong migrants since Monday, welcomed the decision and planned to hold talks with Thai authorities to consider resettlement options. The United Nations is also in talks with the United States, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands for resettling the Hmong migrants, which said they would be willing to take some of the refugees.

Groups of Hmong fighters still remain in the Lao jungle, where they fled after the communists took over the country in 1975. During the civil war (1969-1975) they sided with the pro-US government that was defeated by the Communist Pathet Lao.

After the war some 300,000 Laotians, mostly Hmong, left the country, but many fled into the forest where they are still said to clash occasionally with Laotian government forces.

Amnesty International has accused the Laotian government several times of violating Hmong’s human rights, but Vientiane has rejected the accusation.

Up to 9,000 of them live in Thailand.

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