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Thai Officials Order Hmong Refugees Abandoned

Thai Officials Order Hmong Refugees Abandoned


by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- About 6,500 ethnic Hmong, who illegally crossed the Mekong River into Thailand, suffered the death of a baby girl after Thai officials reportedly ordered people not to feed or help them.

Si Yang, cradling the pale corpse of her two-month-old daughter, said the infant perished on Wednesday (July 6) from fever and diarrhea after the family was refused medical treatment, food and water by Thais in the central province of Phetchabun.

"No medicine, no doctors. Our daughter died," a distraught Si Yang told reporters.

Several months ago, 6,500 minority ethnic Hmong allegedly paid human traffickers thousands of dollars to smuggle them across the wide Mekong River to escape landlocked, impoverished, communist Laos.

Some of the Hmong migrants claimed to be former rightwing mercenaries hired by the CIA during the 1960s and 1970s to fight communist Lao and Vietnamese forces during the U.S.-Vietnam war, only to be abandoned in 1975 when America lost and retreated.

Some younger Hmong said their fathers were CIA mercenaries who had died.

As a result, the group said it was being persecuted by the communist regime in Laos, and fled for safety to Thailand which is a staunch ally of the United States.

Laos denied discriminating against the Hmong, while Thailand insists it cannot host the illegal migrants and they must be quickly expelled.

The Hmong's role as former CIA mercenaries has added to suspicion in Thailand and Laos that this group of 6,500 may cause trouble if they are given sanctuary in a refugee camp.

The 6,500 men, women and children were recently evicted from shelters in Ban Huan Nam Khao village in Phetchabun province, about 185 miles north of Bangkok.

Thai authorities told people not to feed or help them, apparently to force them to return home, Thai villagers said.

"Local residents were too scared to help the [dying] infant and her family, because officials had threatened to jail anyone who harbored the Hmong," the Nation newspaper reported on Thursday (July 7).

Deprived of food and shelter, the Hmong had moved to a nearby roadside on Monday (July 3), where they were drenched by tropical rain and languishing with dwindling supplies.

Some were slashing available bushes for branches to construct shelters and build campfires.

During the past year, Washington started flying about 15,000 Hmong refugees to resettlement in America, to clear a refugee camp further south at Wat Thom Krabok in Thailand's Saraburi province.

U.S. officials said the list of eligible Hmong from Wat Thom Krabok has been finalized, and the ongoing airlifts will be the last flights out.

"Any Lao/Hmong who was registered with the Royal Thai government authorities as of August 2003, and recognized as living at the Wat [Thom Krabok camp], will be eligible to apply for the U.S. resettlement program," the American Embassy in Bangkok announced in December 2003.

"Lao/Hmong living outside the Wat will not be eligible to apply for the program."

Thai officials suspect human traffickers, or Lao residents overseas, may have convinced the 6,500 Hmong to rush to Thailand amid hopes that they could cram onto the U.S.-bound flights.

Unable to get to America, refusing to return to Laos, and not welcome in Thailand, the Hmong spent much of Thursday (July 7) appealing to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to classify them as "political asylum seekers" and find places for them in other countries.

The confrontation comes one month after an American, Ed Szendrey, said a former CIA-backed Lao general, Vang Pao, helped finance his trip into Laos, which ended in expulsion because Szendrey bought illegal satellite telephones for Hmong rebels, set up a "communications network," and aided their movement.

Szendrey, a former US Navy veteran who served in the Gulf of Tonkin at the start of the Vietnam War, said he negotiated the "surrender" of 173 Hmong civilians to the Lao government on June 4, deep inside Laos.

He hoped to arrange future deals for thousands of other wounded and hungry Hmong who are led by poorly armed fighters.

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Richard S. Ehrlich, a freelance journalist who has reported news from Asia for the past 27 years, is co-author of the non-fiction book, "HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!" -- Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His web page is www.geocities.com/glossograph/


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