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THAILAND FAILS TO PERSUADE LAOS TO ACCEPT 20,000 STRANDED HMONG REFUGEES

By: Thai newspaper The Nation web site on 22 June

Thailand yesterday 21 June failed to find common ground with Laos over the fate of more than 20,000 ethnic Hmong refugees stranded at the Thamkrabok Monastery in Saraburi Province.

Defence Minister Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh raised the issue yesterday with his Lao counterpart Maj-General Douangchai Phichit at a meeting of the Thai-Lao General Border Committee.

Chavalit pleaded for understanding and some sympathy from the Lao minister, sources said.

He cited the financial and human-resource burdens the government had to bear in looking after refugees who fled communist Laos some three decades ago, they said.

However, Vientiane refused to change its stance. "We reaffirm our position that the issue (of the Hmong minority) is a domestic issue of Thailand and one in which Laos will never get involved," Douangchai said.

Thamkrabok Monastery has become a shelter for Hmong refugees who have either refused to be resettled to a third country or have been unable to find one willing to take them.

The first wave of Hmong refugees arrived at the monastery in the late 1960s, fleeing fighting between royalists and communists. Later waves came from the now-closed Ban Napho refugee camp in Nakhon Phanom, as well as a camp in Phanat Nikhom, Chon Buri.

Many ethnic Hmong were trained by Thai security forces and used in the US-led secret war in Laos to fight the communists. Though the movement officially ended decades ago underground groups are still looking for ways to destabilise Vientiane.

Thailand wants to clear out the Hmong because of their involvement in the narcotics trade and other reasons, while Vientiane believes they have connections with dissident groups in the US and Europe, a Thai official said.

Chavalit hinted at the possibility of seeking their resettlement to a third country.