A human rights group has called on the Lao government to release
information regarding several Hmong refugees who led protests in
Thailand earlier this year and were later repatriated to Laos. As Ron
Corben reports from Bangkok, Human Rights Watch also wants Lao
authorities to allow independent witnesses to verify the well being and
whereabouts of Hmong refugees sent back to Laos.
The report released Tuesday raises fresh concern over the
whereabouts of five Hmong who led protests in Thailand in June. The
refugees were protesting Thailand's policy of holding them in camps.
The five were among five thousand who marched at the Huay Nam Khao refugee camp, 370 kilometers north of Bangkok on June 20th. The refugees had been held at the camp for more than a year. Afterward, eight hundred protesters were forcibly repatriated to Laos, while thousands more were returned to the camp. Human Rights Watch says eight protest leaders and their families were
sent back to Laos. The report quotes witnesses as saying three of the
men were later released from a prison in Laos after being detained for
Sunai Pasuk, a Human Rights Watch spokesman in Thailand, says the group is worried about the remaining five.
"We have concern that leaders of Lao Hmong who have been politically
active while they were in the shelter in Thailand may face prosecution
after they were sent back to Laos. Now many of them have disappeared.
That has increased our concern."
The report also criticizes Thailand's policy of blocking United Nations
officials from verifying that Hmong who go back to Laos do so
voluntarily. Thai foreign ministry officials say no one has been forced back to Laos.
Sunai says the report repeats earlier requests for more openness.
"What Human Rights Watch want from the Lao government is to provide
transparency, to provide honest and transparent information regarding
the whereabouts of the refugees, particularly the leaders of the Lao
Hmong, and to allow for international agencies to have regular and
unhindered access to the resettlement areas."
During the Vietnam War, the Hmong fought alongside United States
forces. After the war ended in 1975, many were forced to flee Laos,
with thousands crossing into Thailand.
Since then many have been granted homes in the U.S., Australia and other countries.
Both Thailand and Laos say the current refugees are economic migrants, not victims of political persecution.
Click on our audio files for Lao translation of this report.