In response to an invitation by
Laos’ Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh, Thailand’s new Prime Minister Somchai
Vongsavath made a one-day official visit to Vientiane on Nov. 3, to introduce
himself and to discuss bilateral relations. During the visit, the Thai Prime
Minister and his Lao counterpart re-affirmed that their nations will continue
to further their cooperation in all areas as stipulated in previously concluded
agreements, including border demarcation, construction of the third Mekong
bridge linking Laos' Khammouane Province to Thailand's Nakornphanom Province, and completion of the
repatriation of the Hmong refugees from Ban Huay Namkhao camp by mid-2009.
The two prime
ministers reiterated that their governments will complete the border demarcation, both on land and in rivers, as soon as possible. And Mr. Somchai affirmed that his government has already approved an
increase to the budget earmarked for the construction of the third Mekong
bridge, linking the town of Thakhek in Laos to Nakornphanom in Thailand, from 1.4 billion
Baht to 1.8 billion Baht. Lastly, the
two governments agreed that they will continue to implement the
repatriation of over 6,000 Hmongs currently detained
at Ban Huay Namkhao detention camp with the aim to complete the project by mid-2009,
at the latest without third party involvement, according to Mr. Yong
Chanthalangsy, Laos’ spokesman, who pointed out that the reason they decided to
do so was to avoid the difficulties and misunderstandings that may arise between
the two countries. An in order to
complete this project as planned, the two governments signed a memo stipulating
that they will repatriate between 200 and 500 refugees to Laos each month.
On November 1, Thai officials sent
33 Hmongs in Huay Namkhao back to Laos, increasing the total number of Hmongs
returned to Laos so far to over 1,700 people. However, in comments made to VOA-Lao Service’s stringer in Bangkok, the Hmong
refugees in Huay Namkhao camp reiterated their firm decision not to return to
Laos, saying they will leave the camp to hide in jungles if they are forced to
go back to Laos.
Thai officials maintain that they have never forced the Hmongs to go back to
Laos against their will. Meanwhile, the
Lao spokesman,Yong Chanthalangsy, denied the allegation by Human Rights Watch
that Lao officials arrested and detained Hmong leaders returning from Huay
Namkhao, saying the allegation is totally groundless.
Human Rights Watch said in a recent
statement that some Hmong leaders have gone missing after being detained by Lao
authorities upon returning to Laos, and called on the Lao government to release information on
Listen to Songrit’s report for more
details in Lao.