Key US Senator Visits Thailand

Published: Tue 11 Aug 2009 05:13 PM
Key US Senator Visits Thailand: Clinton Urges End to Laos, Hmong Crisis
Washington, D.C. and Bangkok, Thailand, August 10, 2009
Contact: Juan Lopez
U.S. Secretary of State Clinton, in her recent visit to the meeting in Thailand of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), has raised the plight of some 5,000 Hmong who have fled brutal repression in Laos and sought refuge in Thailand. The move by Clinton in opposition to the forced repatriation of Lao Hmong political refugees back to the communist regime in the Lao Peoples Democratic Republic (LPDR) that they fled was again lauded in Washington, D.C., and Capitol Hill by policy experts, scholars and advocates. The recent U.S. diplomatic and Congressional action precede U.S. Senator Jim Webb's (D-VA) visit to Thailand, Laos and Southeast Asian nations in the coming days.
U.S. Senator Jim Webb, in addition to raising high-level security, trade and others issues, is expected to raise concerns about human rights violations in Laos and Thailand against Lao Hmong refugees and political and religious dissidents. Many Lao-Hmong refugees, fleeing persecution in Laos to Thailand, served with U.S. military and clandestine units during the war with Vietnam.
"It is certainly good news, and a huge step forward, that Secretary of State Clinton has personally expressed to the Thai foreign minister her concern for the plight of Hmong refugees in Thailand who are threatened with forcible repatriation to Laos," said B. Jenkins Middleton, Esq., in Washington, D.C. Mr. Middleton is active on human rights and refugee issues regarding Laos and the Hmong people and has presented testimony in the U.S. Congress and Capitol Hill on the current Lao Hmong refugee crisis.
Mr. Middleton stated further: "To date the efforts of lower-level officials of the State Department have failed to persuade the authorities, in both Thailand and Laos, to permit transparent screening, under UNHCR auspices, of the refugees to determine whether they are entitled to political refugee status under international law. Those of us in the international human rights community who have been urging this course are grateful to Secretary Clinton, and will watch further developments with cautious optimism."
"U.S. Secretary of State Clinton's engagement on this matter, demonstrates a new and very welcome U.S. senior level commitment to protecting the human rights of Hmong in Thailand," said Edmund McWilliams, a former U.S. Foreign Service officer who served in Thailand and Laos and worked for many years to assist Laotian and Hmong refugees. "This concern should also extend to Hmong facing brutal repression within Laos which forced the flight of the thousands of Hmong now in Thailand in the first place."
Hmong, Laos scholar and author Dr. Jane Hamilton-Merritt has repeatedly raised concerns about the plight of Lao Hmong refugees in the U.S. Congress and internationally. Dr. Hamilton-Merritt is the author of "Tragic Mountains: The Hmong, the Americans and the Secret Wars for Laos" (Indiana University Press)
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton specifically raised the issue of the forced repatriation of Lao Hmong refugees in Thailand during talks with Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. She reportedly expressed concern about the repatriation process and whether it was being conducted on a truly voluntary basis. She also reportedly suggested a screening mechanism to identify refugees by neutral parties such as the UN refugee agency.
Subsequent to this discussion, Mr. Samuel Witten, principal deputy assistant to the secretary of state in charge of the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, discussed the Lao Hmong refugee issue with the head of the Foreign Affairs Ministry's International Organisations Department, Anuson Chinwanno, and held talks with Thawil Pliensri, the new secretary-general of the National Security Council. Mr Witten also visited the Phetchabun camp at Ban Huay Nam Khao. He is the most senior U.S. official to visit the camp, which houses nearly 5,000 Hmong political refugees and asylum seekers.
"As Senator Jim Webb prepares to visit Laos and Thailand in the wake of Secretary Clinton's meeting with Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva about the Laos, Hmong crisis, many in Washington, D.C. and the U.S. Congress are growing increasingly concerned because, as an example, in late July, ninety-seven (97) Hmong were sent back to Laos as part of the Thai-Lao agreement to repatriate all volunteer Hmong to Laos this year," said Philip Smith, Executive Director of the Center for Public Policy Analysis (CPPA) in Washington, D.C. "Unfortunately, there were absolutely no assurances that this return of Lao Hmong refugees was voluntary, because the Thai military is running out of volunteers; Clearly, the Lao Hmong refugees in Thailand do not want to return to the Stalinist military regime in Laos that continues to persecute, starve to death, attack and massacre their families."
"The Center for Public Policy Analysis strongly welcomes this unprecedented level of U.S. Government attention to the long standing problem of Hmong refugees in Thailand which reached crisis proportions this year as the Thai and Lao Government reached an accord which would forcibly repatriate the thousands of Lao Hmong to Laos," Smith continued.
"In June, some 32 Members of the U.S. Congress sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Clinton in opposition to the forced repatriation of Lao Hmong refugees. The letter was spearheaded by Representatives Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), Dennis Cardoza (D-CA), Frank Wolf (VA), Howard Berman (D-CA), Jim Moran (D-VA), Steve Kagen (D-WI), Jim McGovern (D-MA) and other Members of Congress," Smith concluded.
"I want to take this opportunity to thank our Members of Congress for their letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding our Lao Hmong refugee crisis in Thailand," said Colonel Wangyee Vang, National President of the Lao Veterans of America Institute (LVAI). The non-profit organization represents thousands of Lao and Hmong veterans and their refugee families in the United States. Many have relatives still suffering persecution in Thailand and Laos
Wangyee Vang concluded: " I would also thank you Secretary Clinton for her high-level diplomatic approach to the Thai government and Thai Prime Minister concerning the Lao Hmong refugees in Ban Houi Nam Khao, Petchabun Province and Nong Khai, Thailand, to prevent them from forced repatriation back to the LPDR regime."
Contact: Juan Lopez
Center for Public Policy Analysis
Washington, D.C. USA

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