March 31, 2009
Thailand will complete the repatriation of more than 5,000 Hmong ethnic minority refugees to neighbouring Laos by the end of the year, the foreign minister said on Sunday [29 March 2009].
The Hmong live in camps in northeast Thailand and are seeking political asylum, claiming they face persecution at home because they fought alongside US forces during the Vietnam war.
'All will be sent back to Laos by the end of this year  and Thailand will help monitor their safety,' Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya told a meeting of Thailand's ruling Democrat Party.
Thailand agreed with Laos in January that it would repatriate the 5,000 Hmong. Thailand says the Hmong refugees are economic migrants seeking work and has been slowly sending them back to Laos, to the anger of human rights campaigners who say that some are in danger of persecution.
Bangkok has lately cultivated Laos as a key regional ally, with energy-hungry Thailand buying increasing amounts of electricity from its northern neighbour.