Thailand sent soldiers into a Hmong refugee camp to force 4,000 Hmong back to Laos on Sunday, ignoring U.N. protests and letters from nine U.S. Senators, including both Senator Al Franken and Senator Amy Klobuchar. The Thai forces will first transport the Hmong refugees to a staging area and then into Laos, with plans to complete the entire operation within 24 hours.
The Hmong are seeking asylum in Thailand claiming that they face persecution by the Laotian regime for fighting alongside US forces during the Vietnam War and human rights groups have warned they could resist the expulsion.
Thailand says they are illegal economic immigrants, but has come under fire from the international community for refusing to grant the UN Refugee Agency access to them to assess whether any are political refugees.
The Bangkok Post said that the refugees from the Huay Nam Khao camp in Phetchabun would be kept from seeng foreign observers in order to prevent “spontaneous protests or resistance.”
Special forces members were among the  troops entering the camp and 50 mobile prison trucks also arrived there last night, said Sunai Phasuk, a Thailand analyst at New York-based Human Rights Watch.
“The army said they would first target group leaders and potential trouble makers. Those people would be snatched and sent out first,” he told AFP.
He said local officials expected the Hmong to resist deportation attempts, warning that the situation could “turn ugly”. …
But the United States has said it would be “deeply dismayed” by the deportation and made a last-ditch offer Sunday to help Thailand take an alternative path.
“We have made it abundantly clear that we are prepared to roll up our sleeves and work with partners in Thailand for a solution that is humane and responsible,” said Eric P. Schwartz, Assistant Secretary of State for population, refugees and migration.
Thai officials said that Laos has pledged “amnesty” for Hmong leaders.
Reporters have not been allowed into the camps since 2007. Last May the main aid group assisting the Hmong in Phetchabun, Medecins Sans Frontieres, withdrew in protest at the conditions at the camps.
”We can no longer work in a camp where the military uses arbitrary imprisonment of influential leaders to pressure refugees into a ‘voluntary’ return to Laos, and forces our patients to pass through military checkpoints to access our clinic,” the group said.