A US-based Lao human rights group will intensify its effort to lobby Washington to allow the last group of Lao refugees in Thailand to resettle in the United States, its leader said yesterday.
Vang Pobzeb, executive director of the Lao Human Rights Council Inc, pledged to push for resettlement of 116 Lao refugees through US congressmen and senators.
"We will ask the US to interview those people to resettle in the US," Mr Vang said.
A total of 116 refugees from Laos still remain at Ban Napho camp in Nakhon Phanom, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. They opted out of a repatriation programme jointly operated by the UNHCR and the Thai and Lao governments, which ended in December last year.
The refugees are ethnic Hmong people. More than half of them are former soldiers who helped the Central Intelligence Agency fight the left-wing communist Pathet Lao movement before 1975, Mr Vang said.
The UNHCR has been trying to seek a third country for their resettlement. The US and other Western countries have already rejected their application.
The Lao government has said a new round of negotiations is required with no guarantee that all of them will be accepted if they want to return home.
Mr Vang, who visited Ban Napho in July last year, said most of them did not want to return to Laos fearing for their own safety. They also considered the repatriation to be a forced return because it was against their will.
Thailand wants to close down its last camp for Indochinese refugees as soon as possible.
But Mr Vang appealed to the government to ease the policy and allow the refugess to stay at the camp until they are accepted by a third country.
The leader of the Wisconsin-based organisation also called on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to pressure Laos to stop human rights violations, and to press Vietnam to withdraw its soldiers from Laos.
Vientiane has strongly denied the presence of Vietnamese soldiers in Laos.
"This is not an intervention in domestic policy. Asean nations have braced for regional peace. Asean has the right to do so," Mr Vang said.