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 their whereabouts.
Listen to Songrit’s report for more details in Lao.