12/14/2006, 00.00
LAOS – THAILAND
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Hmong’s war continues 30 years after peace

Yesterday more than 400 Hmong surrendered to the Laotian army after fighting from the jungle for 30 years since the end of the war in 1975. Their predicament has been forgotten by all whilst for Laotian authorities they are just “bandits”. Thailand is getting ready to sending back hundreds of Hmong refugees.

Vientiane (AsiaNews/Agencies) – More than 400 ethnic Hmong surrendered in Laos after being on the run for three decades since the end of the war. Thailand meanwhile wants to repatriate 152 Hmong refugees.

The surrendering group's chief accompanied 405 people, mostly children, to Ban Ha village before withdrawing back to the jungle with a few of his guerrillas, said a dispatch from a U.S.-based Fact Finding Commission based on information received by satellite phone.

The chief of the village where they surrendered served them a meal of rice and pork before troops took charge of them driving them to an unknown destination.

In Laos tens of thousands of Hmong fought on the side US-backed government during the civil war (1969-1975). When the Communists of the Pathet Lao won, some 300,000 Laotians fled, especially Hmong. Many however chose to find refuge in the forests fearing retaliation or refusing peace and fought the Laotian army ever since. Increasingly isolated and hungry, many have sought refuge in Thailand.

Amnesty International has repeatedly charged the Laotian government of serious human rights violations against the Hmong. Vientiane has always rejected the claims and insisted that the fighter were just “bandits”.

According to the Fact Finding Commission, a similar surrender in June last year of about 170 people took place, but foreign diplomats and international NGOs were not allowed to see them. Many fled to Thailand afterward because of poor living conditions. But they are persona non grata in Thailand.

Now Bangkok wants to forcibly repatriate 152 Hmong refugees and asylum seekers. At least 104 members of this group have been recognized as refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The group also includes 77 children and eight infants. They claimed they fled persecution at the hands of Laotians authorities because of their alleged connection with ethnic Hmong resistance groups in Laos.

The 152 Hmong were arrested on November 17 in a police round-up after they escaped from Ban Huay Nam Khao shelter in Phetchabun province. They were transferred on December 7 to a detention facility in Nong Khai province, near the border with Laos. And according to Human Rights Watch, Bangkok is getting ready to deport them.

Thailand should not forcibly return Hmong who may face persecution when they go back to Laos,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

In December 2005, the Thai government of Thaksin Shinawatra forcibly returned 27 Hmong asylum seekers—most of them children separated from their parents—to Laos. A similar deportation took place again after Prime Minister Surayud came to office. On November 15, 2006, 53 Hmong asylum seekers were handed over to Lao authorities. The whereabouts of these returnees remains unknown, as no international human rights organisations has had access to them in Laos.

But given the reports by Lao official media that the groups would go through “re-education,” there are fears that they may be subjected to the kinds of human rights violations that have been a feature of “re-education” camps in Laos, such as arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment. (PB)

 

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