Thai military authorities overseeing the detention camp at Ban Huay Nam Khao, in Thailand's Phetchabun province, insist that more and more Hmong refugees volunteer to return to Laos. But refugee leaders repudiate the claim, saying only a small number is willing to go back.
Moreover, hundreds of refugees have left the camp and are now hiding in the jungles, out of fear for their safety if they are sent back to Laos. The refugees say they are afraid the Lao government will persecute them because their ancestors had CIA connections.
Laos and Thailand reached an agreement last year to return all the Hmongs at Ban Huay Nam Khao to Laos by the end of 2008, and started repatriating them. In late May of this year, the refugees staged a rally at the entrance to the camp and burned their shelters in the camp as a protest.
When Thai soldiers started rounding them up, hundreds of them fled to the jungles. Dao Vong Thor, now living in hiding with his group, told VOA Bangkok stringer Songrit Pongern by phone that a number of their leaders who had been in custody of the Thai military is unaccounted for and their whereabouts are unknown. He appealed to the international community for help in finding them.
After the protest and the fire, Thai authorities said they will not be able to send all the refugees back this year, and will try to repatriate only 2000, and only those who are willing. As of June, some 1,400 Hmongs have been returned to Laos. The largest group, handed over to Lao authorities on June 22, consisted of 837 refugees.
Listen to Songrit's report for more details in Lao.