Cease Force Repatriation to Laos, Urges Human Rights Groups

Thailand, Laos Crisis: Samak Urged To Grant Amnesty to Hmong

WASHINGTON (Rushprnews)April 21, 2008 – Amnesty International, the Center for Public Policy Analysis and a coalition of Lao and Hmong human rights organizations urged Thailand’s Prime Minister Samak, and the government and military of Thailand, to immediately cease the forced and involuntary repatriation of Lao and Hmong refugees back to the regime in Laos that they fled. Sanctuary, political asylum and humanitarian assistance are being urged for the Lao and Hmong refugees in Thailand by human rights and humanitarian organizations including Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

“We commend Amnesty International for its urgent and important human rights and humanitarian appeal today on behalf of the suffering Lao and Hmong refugees and asylum seekers in Thailand that are now being brutally pressured and forced back to Laos by Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and elements of the Thai military in cooperation with communist Lao military officials,” stated Philip Smith, Executive Director for the Center for Public Policy Analysis (CPPA) in Washington, D.C.

The following is the public statement issued on April 18, 2008 by Amnesty International about the current crisis in Thailand and Laos http://www.amnestyusa.org/document.php?id=ENGASA390042008

Amnesty International urges the new government of Thailand to take a stand in support of Lao and Hmong asylum seekers and refugees in Thailand, including the detention center at Nong Khai. Amnesty states: “Over-crowding, lack of clean water, and constant fear of being sent back to Laos where they face human rights violations: life for 154 Lao Hmong refugees, in detention in northern Thailand since 2006, is intolerable. Amnesty International calls on the government of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej to ensure that the group are immediately released from detention, and are issued with exit visas in order to allow them to be resettled in a third country.”

“The Lao government is using food as a weapon against the Hmong people in Laos,” stated T. Kumar, Advocacy Director and Asia Policy expert at Amnesty International in Washington, D.C. at a U.S. Congressional Forum on Laos held in January 2008 in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The CPPA in cooperation with the Lao Human Rights Council and other human rights groups has new information about the fate of a recent group of 13 Hmong refugees forced back to Laos on February 27 and February 28, 2008 with Thai Army attack dogs prior to the visit of Thai Prime Minister Samak to Laos.

The brutal and bloody forced repatriation of this group of Hmong refugees immediately prior to Prime Minister Samak’s visit to Laos resulted in an international outcry by Lao and Hmong human rights organizations and advocates as well as statements of protest and concern by Human Rights Watch, UNHCR, Members of the United States Congress and others.   http://www.rushprnews.com/press/archives/1231650
http://ww.rushprnews.com/press/archives/1231662

Mr. Cha Lee, a Lao Hmong refugee recently forced back to Laos and imprisoned by communist officials, provided an eye-witness account and statement to the Lao Human Rights Council and the CPPA in Washington, D.C. He was forced back to Laos on February 27-28, 2008. Escaping Laos a second time across the Mekong River, he returned to Thailand a second time seeking political asylum.

Mr. Cha Lee was one of the 11 Hmong refugees (out of an original group of 13) forcibly repatriated to Laos on February 27 and February 28, 2008 with the help of Thai Army troops and Thai Third Army attack dogs. They were forced back to Laos prior to Thai Prime Minister Samak’s visit to Laos. Cha Lee recently escaped from Paksong Prison (Bach Sam Prison), following his forced repatriation to Laos. He fled a second time to neighboring Thailand where he contacted relatives in the United States and human rights organizations. Two other Hmong refugees in the group with Cha Lee that were forced back to Laos were so badly mauled and injured by Thai Third Army dogs in the bloody attack that they had to be hospitalized and were later sent back to Laos against their will (the total number of those forced back was 13 Hmong refugees).

Mr. Cha Lee stated: “The Laotian authorities told me that they will remove three of us (from Pakson Prison) to a new security facility where we know that they will take us there and kill us. Also, the Hmong boys that were with a group of 21 Hmong girls were told they would be moved to a new security facility, but they disappeared and never returned. They (the Lao government officials) told us that they will remove us to a new security facility, meaning they will kill us all. I decided to escape from Laos again, and the persecution in Laos, back to Thailand a second time.”

The following are excerpts of Mr. Cha Lee’s statement provided to the Lao Human Rights Council and the Center for Public Policy Analysis in early April of 2008:

“My name is Cha Lee. I am 26 years old. My family clan name is Lee. I am with the group of 11 that was abducted and forcibly repatriated by the Thai government officials from Ban Huay Nam Khao, Petchabun, Thailand back to the communist regime in Laos on February 27 and 28, 2008. Two others Hmong refugees were badly injured by Thai Army attack dogs on February 27 and were placed in the hospital because they did not want to be forced back to the regime in Laos that they fled, so the original total of our group was 13 Hmong refugees that the Thai Army wanted to force back to Laos.. That day, February 27, the Thai military told us to go outside of the refugee camp. I did not know why the Thai military officials were telling us to go outside of the camp, but when I went outside, the Thai soldiers forcibly apprehended me. When they forcibly apprehended me, the Thai military soldiers drove me to the main road first and then drove the Lao Hmong women and children refugees that they were forcing to go back to Laos, afterwards. The Thai soldiers put us into a bigger vehicle. They used two vehicles to try to force us back to Laos. They were helped by Communist Hmong soldiers from Laos who assisted the Thai soldiers to force us back to Laos.

They tried to push me into the vehicle but I refused and so they hit me a couple times. I could not do anything so I went into the vehicle.  Then they drove me for a long distance.

There were a total of 11 people there, including me it would be 12. The day they captured us was after 2:00 pm and almost 3:00 pm on February 27, 2008. That night, they took us to sleep at Khonkhaen in a larger building. They laid our places to sleep and grouped us in a corner jail cell. Early in the morning, they sent us away again.

One of the 11 Hmong refugees was crying and said that she was separated from her children and that her children was still in Thailand at the refugee camp at Ban Huay Nam Khao, so the officials said to leave her there and wait for her children. That Hmong refugee was left at khonkhaen Her name is Zoua.

When we left khonkhaen early in the morning, even before we reached the Mekong river, the Thai military and the Hmong communist Pathet Lao solders put the covering on the military vehicles so we could not see out. I told my two friends that they are not taking us to Laos, they are taking us to kill because if they were taking us to Laos, they would not cover the vehicle. The vehicles shipping us were Thai vehicles; however, the officials receiving us were Lao communists. The Lao commuist officials met us with vehicles of their own that sent us to Pakson prison. Initially, they told us they were taking us to a place where our relatives would be able to come visit us; but when we stopped, we saw a building that was not the place they had told us. It was a large prison. It had thick white walls surrounding it with barbed wire fences and 3 sets of doors; one at the main entrance, one at the entrance of the building, and one at the entrance of the cells.

They did not harm us on that first day, but early the next day, they took us individually to question and interrogate. They took me to the farthest room near a tree to question. The others told the Lao officials the names and villages of their relatives in Laos and their interrogation session did not last long; however, I did not know how to answer them and told them I was from the jungle of Laos therefore, they took much longer to question and interrogate me. The Lao officials told the other Hmong refugees that they will be sent to a new place. However, I was afraid and I said that that new place would be frightening and I would not know how my life would be in that new place. That is when I made up my mind that I would not stay in Laos. I spoke with the other two men that were in our group and asked them if we should go to the new place. I told the other Hmong refugees with me that those who were captured and sent to these prisons were often never heard from again. I said that the Lao officials were just using that excuse to take us to another place to do harm to us or kill us.

One of our sisters in our group of 11 had two sisters come visit her. I escaped when they came to visit her. At that time, I was sleeping, but I slept near a barred window that could see out to the main entrance, and the guards, and the 3 sisters talking. I was only wearing a pair of pants, so I grabbed a shirt, my shoes, and an extra pair of pants and pretended to get a drink. When I started up, I snuck past the 2 guards, and walked out the doors but I did not know there was another guard outside. I walked a few yards when they noticed me and I dropped everything except my shoes and ran. While I was running, I heard them calling to the other guards to grab their guns because a prisoner had escaped and I heard them order to kill me if they can. I thought that if they did catch me, then my punishment would be severe, so I kept running. I ran all night and when the morning came, I finally lost the guards who were chasing me. The day I escaped was March 13, 2008 and it took me three days for me to reach Thailand on March 16, 2008.

I do not know the conditions of the 11 people that I left behind in the prison. But when I was there, the Lao officials had said that no one can escape; if one person escaped then they will punish the remaining group severely. Also, if they catch the one that had escaped, they will kill him. Because of that I am very frightened but if I had a choice of dying today or tomorrow, I will choose tomorrow. My ex-wife and children were captured all together with us. When I escaped, they were still in the prison in Laos.

I am very frightened for my life. I am pleading to all of the human rights organizations and the world community to help us.”

Vaughn Vang, Director of the Lao Human Rights Council stated:

“The Hmong at the refugee camp in Thailand were once denied by the Lao government as one of their own. Now the Lao government wants to claim them back and is offering 10,000 baht for each individual to return to Laos. Additionally, they have hired some corrupt elements of the Thai government and military to capture and repatriate Hmong refugees to the Laos. However, the individuals that have accepted the bribery have been imprisoned in Paksong Prison (Bach Sam Prison), which is the same prison that housed the 21 Hmong girls that were repatriated in 2005. Cha Lee has escaped from that particular prison at Paksong (Bach Sam) because the Lao government plans to first kill the 3 male Hmong refugees that were recently repatriated from Thailand to the prison. The Hmong that have been repatriated from Thailand to Laos are scheduled to be killed.

Vaughn Vang concluded: “ It is also important to point out that the Lao and Thai military have hired Hmong-Lao and Hmong-Thai police officers and secret police, who speak the Hmong language, to lure the Hmong refugees at the refugee camp in Thailand with false promises and threats to return to Laos. It is likely that the Hmong refugees will be persecuted or killed; many of the ones who have already been repatriated are in line to be killed. Lao and Hmong refugees in Thailand should not be repatriated back to Laos where the Lao military is engage in a process of extermination and starvation of thousands of innocent people. The international community and human rights organizations should immediately intervene so that the lives of these Lao and Hmong refugees as well as those unarmed civilians under attack in the jungles and mountains can be saved from the continued attacks by the Lao military.”

Contact:

Anna Jones

Center for Public Policy Analysis

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