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HEADLINE: Rights group pushes US to let in last Hmong refugees

DATELINE: BANGKOK, June 21

A leading Lao human rights group will step up pressure on the United States to allow the last group of ethnic Hmong refugees in Thailand to resettle there, refugee advocates said Wednesday.

The US-based Lao Human Rights Council will intensify its pressure on Washington to allow in the 116 ethnic Hmong refugees who have refused to be repatriated to Laos, the refugee sources said.

"We will ask the US to interview those people to resettle in the US," Lao Human Rights Council director Vang Pobzeb told the Bangkok Post.

The 116 Hmong refugees from Laos, who remain at the Baan Napho camp in north-east Nakhom Phanom province, opted out of a repatriation program jointly operated by the Thai and Lao governments and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR.)

The UNHCR is also reportedly pushing for the refugees to be resettled in the US.

Other reports said the Hmong refugees have refused to be repatriated because they feared for their safety if returned to Laos.

Many ethnic Hmong fought alongside the US against Laos' communists during the Vietnam War era. The communists seized power in 1975, and since then the country has been ruled by the Lao People's Revolutionary Party.

Thailand has said that it wants to close down Baan Napho camp as soon as possible.

Refugee relief sources told AFP that the Hmong at Baan Napho who do not go to a third country will be placed in a detention center in Bangkok.

The US State Department had previously said that it welcomed Hmong refugees but that it believed they also could be repatriated to Laos.

Some 12,000 Hmong who fought with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) during the Vietnam War have been resettled in the United States.