"The Lao government still continues its siege and persecution of Hmongs in Laos, especially in the Phoubia Mountain area; and that is the reason why Hmong refugees at Huay Nam Khao do not want to go back to Laos," said a key leader of the Hmong refugees at Ban Huay Nam Khao camp, in response to remarks by the head of a Lao delegation visiting the camp recently. During his interview with our VOA Bangkok stringer, the Hmong refugee leader, Ly Xeu, also said that:
"Brigadier General Bouasieng asserted that the Lao government has changed its policy regarding Hmongs by forgiving them of any kind of wrongdoings, and that there is no war in Laos. However, that statement is a lie. In reality there is still a war in Laos and it is still, currently, happening at Phou Daphor Mountain, Namtao Samsen, where people loyal to Mr. Yong Chanthalangsy and Brigadier General Bouasieng are attacking our people. In fact, on February 17, two of my subordinates died in this attack. Therefore, I would like to ask members of the international community and the United Nations to contact me if they want proofs, and I will take them to see whether or not there still is a war going on in Laos."
Ly Xeu stressed that the continuous siege and persecution by the Lao government over the last 30 years were the most important factor pushing him and his people to leave Laos and take refuge at Ban Huay Namkhao since 2004. Although Lao officials, led by Brigadier General Bouasieng Champaphanh, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Lao People's Army, came to Huay Namkhao to tell Hmong leaders that such accusation is not true, and promised that they will take good care of those who voluntarily return to Laos, the Hmongs at Huay Namkhao camp were unconvinced.
Phia Lee, a former Huay Namkhao resident who returned to Laos last year and accompanied the Lao delegation on this visit to assure his fellow Hmongs at the camp of the good hospitality of the Lao government, acknowledged that the refugees still do not believe the Lao officials.
Laos and Thailand agreed last year that they would complete the repatriation of all Hmong refugees from Ban Huay Namkhao to Laos by June of this year. Currently 5,474 people from 982 families remain at the detention camp. Between August 2007 and February 2009, Thai officials have repatriated over 2,057 Hmong refugees and 484 families. Of those who returned to Laos, 95% went back to their home villages, while the rest volunteered to stay at the Ban Palak resettlement site in Kasy District, Vientiane Province. Lao authorities assert that they have taken very good care of the returning Hmongs.
Nonetheless, given the refugees' opposition to repatriation as expressed by their leaders at Ban Huay Namkhao, Thai and Lao authorities admit that the repatriation of all those Hmongs will be impossible to complete by June.
Songrit Pongern reported from Bangko on 2/28/09. (English translation by Buasawan Simmala and Dara Baccam)
Listen to our audio files for more details in Lao.