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Military bars media from Hmong refugee camp, issues coverage "guidelines"

(SEAPA/IFEX) - The Thai military has barred media access to a refugee camp in Ban Huay Nam Khao, a mountainous village north of the country, the only one housing some 7,000 Hmong who fled from neighbouring Laos.

The military also issued a statement to the media, offering "guidelines" on coverage of the issue, local English broadsheet "The Nation" reported on 2 July 2007.

The media were told to portray Thai officials favourably, "refrain from reporting officials' bad treatment, if any, of the Hmong" and discourage further Hmong refugees. They are encouraged to report on how the influx of refugees has inconvenienced Thai villagers in the area. There is to be no mention of the legal status of the Hmong under the local or international law.

Thailand deemed the Lao Hmong illegal or economic migrants after a United Nations programme to repatriate them ended in the 1990s. The junta government forcibly deported 163 of them on 9 June 2007.

However, many living in the Ban Huay Nam Khao camp claim they were part of the anti-communist guerrilla set up by the United States Central Intelligence Agency to fight the treacherous Laotian front of the Vietnam war. After the communists won the war in 1975, some 300,000 Lao Hmong fled to Thailand; nearly 200,000 of them have resettled in the United States.

Thousands remain armed in the Laotian jungles, fearing persecution if they surrender. Those who are still making their way to Thailand, to seek asylum in a third country, claim the same if they are repatriated.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has not been allowed access to the Lao Hmong in Thailand to assess their protection needs.

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