LINDA WERTHEIMER, Host:
Doualy, at this hour, what is happening in this northern part of Thailand?
DOUALY XAYKAOTHAO: And by forcibly, what we know is the troops apparently are armed with batons and shields, but there's no way to know for sure because the Thai government is doing this operation without any transparency. Reporters and local media are at the base of this refugee camp some 11 kilometers away. And pictures coming out simply show sad-looking Hmong, waving at cameras through the crack of trucks and vehicles.
WERTHEIMER: Who are these people? Why have they been living in camps? This is many years after the end of the Vietnam War.
XAYKAOTHAO: Well, the Hmong are an ethnic hill tribe group living in mountainous regions all over Asia, including China, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. But many in this group claim they were guerilla soldiers in the little-known secret war in Laos during the Vietnam War. But some are also simply economic migrants who left Laos to find work in Thailand, so it's a mix. But the Thai government has denied access to refugee and rights groups, so nobody really knows for sure who all these people are.
WERTHEIMER: You have been in some of these camps, haven't you, in the past? Can you tell us something about what they're like?
XAYKAOTHAO: Yes. Unfortunately, Ban Huay Nam Khao has been described as worse than previous Thai refugee camps. This is a fenced-in makeshift community on a mountain in Phetchabun Province with rows of homes, essentially simply built houses with straw used as roofs. People live on dirt floors. Food distribution is difficult because the Thai authorities have refused to allow food distribution by U.N. agencies and local groups in Thailand.
WERTHEIMER: Doualy, critics are saying that Thailand has moved away from international obligations to protect the refugees. Has the Thai government said anything?
XAYKAOTHAO: Well, first of all, Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva says that the Lao government has assured them that the Hmong will be looked after and that U.N. agencies will be allowed to visit the Hmong. But there are no guarantees at this point that independent agencies have been given any assurance that Laos will treat these returnees well. The Hmong have repeatedly claimed they will be persecuted and threatened by the Lao government if returned to Laos.
WERTHEIMER: Do you have any idea what has happened to the people who have already gone back? Is there any guarantee that the Hmong will be safe when they are returned to Laos?
XAYKAOTHAO: But a foreign ministry spokesman for the Laos government says these are our citizens and we have to take care of them. That they have a humanitarian policy for resettling them home, and that there should be no fears for these concerns.
WERTHEIMER: Doualy, thank you very much.
XAYKAOTHAO: Thanks, Linda.
WERTHEIMER: Doualy Xaykaothao, who's based in Seoul, South Korea.
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