A top officer of the Lao Armed Forces maintain that there is no other choice for the Hmong refugees at Huay Namkhao detention camp in Thailand but to return to Laos. The assertion came from Deputy Chief of Staff Brigadier General Bouasieng Champaphanh, who spoke in his capacity as chairman of the Sub-committee on Lao-Thai Border Security, as he led a Lao delegation to meet with key Hmong leaders at Ban Huay Namkhao, Khaokhor District, in Thailand's Phetchaboun Province, for the first time on February 19, 2009. The General said,
"There is no other choice for these Hmong refugees because, first of all, it is not possible for themto go to a third country, because no country has offered to take them. Both Thai and Lao authorities have approached the American ambassadors, and they have categorically rejected resettlement of the refugees in the United States, and instead urged us to resolve the problems ourselves. Therefore, Hmongs at Huay Namkhao should not have their hopes set on going to America. Secondly, if the Hmongs harbored any idea of organizing anti-Lao government activities, they should be aware that they will not receive support from any country, including the U.S. Hence, they should give up all those ideas, and return to Laos, where they can find opportunities to live their lives in happiness. The earlier they return, the better off they will be."
General Bouasieng further reassured the refugees that they will be welcome by the government, who will take good care of them and provide them assistance.
The assistance promised by the government of Laos to those who voluntarily return includes forgiving them of any kind of wrong doings, extending them the same and equal rights and freedoms enjoyed by other citizens of the country, providing them shelters and arable land for growing their food, and job opportunities as well as comprehensive basic services, such as providing education to Hmong children, primary public health care, clean water sources, and irrigation canals. The government will also continue to build and improve roads and provide free electricity service for a year.
During Brigadier General Bouasieng's visit, Thai authorities deployed hundreds of soldiers to maintain security around the camps. Only key leaders of the refugee community were allowed to meet with the Lao delegation, which was accompanied by some former camp leaders who had returned to Laos. They were, of course, brought to reassure the refugees of the warm welcome and good care that they have received from the Lao government. However, the camp leaders were only allowed to listen to General Bouasieng's remarks, but not to raise any questions or express their opinions. Journalists who were allowed to attend the meeting were banned by Thai authorities from interviewing and taking pictures of Hmongs inside the camp.
Songrit Pongern reported from Bangkok. (English translation by Buasawan Simmala and Dara Baccam)
Listen to our audio files for more details in Lao.