A key leader of the Hmong refugees at Ban Huay Nam Khao camp insists that the siege and persecution of Hmongs in Laos conducted by Lao government still continue; therefore, they believe that their return to Laos is risky to both their physical well-being and their lives. For their part, Lao authorities reaffirm that they will provide assistance and take good care of every Hmong upon their return to Laos.
Mr. Ly Xue, a prominent leader of the Hmong refugees at Ban Huay Nam Khao camp, Khaokhor District, in northeastern Thailand's Phetchaboun Province, says that the fact that Thai authorities are taking every possible measures to pressure all Hmongs to return to Laos not only violates the International Convention on Refugees, but also endangers their life and physical well-being. He adds that this is because the siege and persecution of Hmongs, especially jungle Hmongs, conducted by Lao armed forces since 1975, is still going.
Mr. Ly Xeu also stresses that although Brigadier General Bouasieng Champaphanh, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Lao Armed Forces, came to Huay Namkhao to tell Hmong leaders at the beginning of this year that such accusation was not true, his words could not be trusted. He added,
"The general 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, but 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 Brigadier General Bouasieng is still taking his armed forces to attack our people."
The reason behind the continuous siege and persecution by the Lao government is that these Hmongs were former soldiers or children of former soldiers who fought alongside US troops or CIA agents during the Indochina War. Lao authorities insist, however, that there is no resistance group in Laos and there is no such siege or persecution of the Hmong people, and explain that there is only the relocation of different ethnic groups from small villages to form bigger villages to facilitate development projects, and abolish slash and burn agriculture.
During his visit, Brigadier General Bouasieng informed Hmong leaders at Huay Namkhao that the assistance promised by the government of Laos to those who voluntarily return home to live in the newly developed villages includes: 1) a new house on a large lot so that the returnees may build bigger houses when they can earn more money; 2) enough rice for a year's consumption; 3) free electricity for a year; 4) start-up money of 300 thousands Kip; 5) the government will develop infrastructures to provide conditions for the returnees to have their own sustainable production of food and products in the long run. And they will have schools for their children, and teachers, as well as primary public health care centers. In addition, he said, these Hmongs will receive the same and equal rights and freedoms enjoyed by other citizens of the country.
Since 2007, Thai authorities have sent 14 groups of Huay Namkhao Hmongs back to Laos, a total of 2,807 from 578 families. Currently, there are a little over 5,000 Hmongs remaining in the camp. Thai and Lao authorities have agreed to return all of them to Laos by year's end.
Songrit Pongern reported from Bangkok on June 23, 2009. Listen to Songrit's report for more details in Lao. (English translation by Buasawan Simmala and Dara Baccam.)