Thailand expels Hmong refugees
PHETCHABUN, Thailand - Thailand launched an operation early today to close a refugee camp and send some 4,000 ethnic Hmong back to Laos, despite concerns about their safety.
Colonel Thana Charuwat, the Thai Army’s field coordinator for the operation, said it began at 5:30 a.m. today and involved a total of 5,000 troops.
He said the soldiers were unarmed, but equipped with shields and batons, which he described as meeting international standards for dealing with situations in which people are moved against their will.
Many of the Hmong say they face persecution in their homeland because of its communist government’s antagonism toward them. Hmong hill tribe people fought on the side of a pro-American government during the Vietnam War, but the communist side, known in the West as the Pathet Lao, emerged triumphant in 1975.
Thailand says that most of the Hmong at the camp have no legitimate claim to refugee status, but are simply economic migrants who have entered the country illegally.
At least two dozen trucks headed toward the refugee camp, with about 20 soldiers on each truck. A large contingent of troops was already in the camp, which has been sealed off to journalists and other outsiders. Thana said the army hoped to complete the operation within 24 hours. He said buses would take the Hmong across the border.