Bangkok Post Monday June 23, 2008
Hmong forced to return to Laos after big protest march
Despite recent legislation in the US aimed at stopping the forced repatriation of Hmong people from Thailand to Laos, local authorities forced a large group of the minority hilltribe people to return yesterday.
The forced repatriation by Thai officials happened after about 5,000 Hmong marched out of the Huay Nam Khao camp in Phetchabun on Friday, attempting to walk to Bangkok to draw international attention to their plight.
Sources in the North said some leaders of the march from the refugee camp were forcibly returned to Laos yesterday, along with a group of Hmong wanted by Lao authorities.
The sources said another 800 Hmong will be deported to Laos today _ some allegedly against their will. However, many have accepted money from the government to return to Laos after being in camps in Thailand for several years.
United Nations refugee officials were denied access to the camps.
The army forcibly broke up the protest march on Saturday and 500 to 600 Hmong have been locked up in provincial jails.
Army officers kept reporters away from the stand-off between their troops and the marchers.
The Hmong were blocked by riot police and troops on a road about 5km from the village of Khet Noi and forced to spend the night in the open.
The repatriation of the Hmong comes only weeks after the US government introduced legislation in Congress in an attempt to prevent them being forcibly returned to Laos.
The Hmong claim refugee status _ which they have been denied in Thailand _ and claim they fled persecution in Laos because they were part of a CIA-backed force that fought the communists in the 1960s and 1970s. The government insists the Hmong in Phetchabun are economic migrants.
About eight families were reportedly taken to Nong Khai by truck yesterday and then sent to Laos. Another 832 Hmong were put into buses and taken to Nong Khai for deportation.
A source said some in the buses were crying and shouting because they did not want to return to Laos.
Aid workers at Huay Nam Khao said about 1,600 people, or a third of those who marched out of the camp, had failed to return.