Leahy May Review Funding of U.S.-Thailand Military Relations as Anupong, Abhisit Move Against Hmong
"Should the Hmong be treated similarly it could badly damage the Thai military's reputation, and put our military collaboration at risk," U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy said on the Senate floor regarding U.S.-Thai Military Relations.
“Key U.S. Senators are openly stating that the return of Lao Hmong refugees to Laos by Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and Army Chief of Staff General Anupong Paochinda may have negative effects on America’s relationship with Thailand, including potential damage to the U.S.-Thai military relationship, including American funding, and the annual Cobra Gold exercises,” said Philip Smith, Executive Director of the Center for Public Policy Analysis ( CPPA ) in Washington, D.C.
Smith continued: “Senator Leahy is calling for the potential review of the funding for U.S.-Thailand military relations as General Anupong and Prime Minister Abhisit Order the Thai Army to move against defenseless Lao Hmong political refugees at Huay Nam Khao in Petchabun Province. Moreover, Prime Minister Abhisit and General Anupong have ignored repeated appeals by Members of Congress and the international community to His Majesty, Bhumibol Adulayadej, the King of Thailand, to grant asylum to the Hmong refugees until they can be resettled in third countries like Australia, Canada and The Netherlands, that have agreed to host them.” http://www.pr-inside.com/his-majesty-bhumibol-adulayadej-the-r1586480.htm
“It is important to note that U.S. Senators, Russ Feingold ( D-WI ), Patrick Leahy ( D-VT ), Richard Lugar ( R-IN ), Barbara Boxer ( D-CA ), Al Franken ( D-MN ) , Amy Klobuchar ( D-MN ), Mark Begich ( D-AK ), Lisa Murkowski ( R-AK ) and Sheldon Whitehouse ( D-RI ) sent the letter to Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on December 17, 2009, and released it on December 23, 2009, in Washington, D.C. following reports of more Thai soldiers and a large troop convoy of over 50 army trucks and buses being deployed at the main Hmong refugee camp at Ban Huay Nam Khao to force over 4,000 political refugees back to Laos over the Christmas and New Year holiday season,” Smith concluded. http://www.media-newswire.com/release_1108674.html
“Senator Leahy, Chairman of the key committee in the U.S. Senate that oversees international U.S. military assistance, has issued a clear message to the Thai Government that forced repatriation of Hmong back to Laos, as now appears imminent, would have dire implications for U.S. military-to-military cooperation with Thailand,” said Edmund McWilliams, a retired senior foreign service officer who served at the U.S. Embassies in Thailand and Laos and is a combat veterans of the Vietnam War.
“The Senator, joined by other colleagues earlier this month, wrote to the Thai Prime Minister underscoring the urgency and importance… of this issue; Forced repatriation of Hmong back to the land from which they were driven would be especially egregious in this Christmas season, particularly for many Christians among the Hmong,” McWilliams explained. http://www.media-newswire.com/release_1108513.html
The following is the text of the statement by Senator Leahy:
STATEMENT OF SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY ON THE FATE OF HMONG REFUGEES
December 23, 2009, Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, I want to speak briefly about a worrisome humanitarian situation that is developing in Thailand, which could cause problems for our relations with the Thai military.
Thailand and the United States are long time friends and allies, and our armed forces have developed a cooperative relationship. Many Thai military officers have been trained in the United States, and Thai soldiers have participated in joint U.S.-Thai training exercises such as Operation Cobra Gold. I expect this relationship to continue. But I am very concerned, as I know are other Senators, that the Thai Government may be on the verge of deporting roughly 4,000 ethnic Hmong back to Laos where many fear persecution.
Thailand has a long history of generosity towards refugees from Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. It is a history to be proud of. But the Thai Government, which insists that the Hmong are economic migrants who should be repatriated, has reportedly deployed additional troops to Phetchabun province where most of the Hmong are in camps. There is a growing concern that the Thai military may expel the Hmong before the end of the year. There is also concern that a group of 158 Hmong in Nongkhai province, who have been screened and granted United Nations refugee status, could be sent back to Laos. I understand that the United States and several countries have told the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Thai Government they are prepared to consider this group of refugees for resettlement. Potential resettlement countries should be given an opportunity to interview these individuals in Thailand.
It may be that some of the 4,000 Hmong are economic migrants. It is also likely that some are refugees who have a credible fear of persecution if they were returned to Laos. I am aware that many Hmong fought alongside the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, working with Thai authorities, needs to determine who has a legitimate claim for asylum and who does not, in accordance with long-standing principles of refugee law and practice. No one with a valid claim should be returned to Laos except on a voluntary basis. The United States, and other countries, can help resettle those who do have valid claims but need access and the opportunity to consider relevant cases.
I mention this because I cannot overstate the consternation it would cause here if the Thai Government were to forcibly return the Hmong to Laos in violation of international practice and requirements. The image of Laotian refugees – including many who the United Nations and the Thai Government itself have stated are in need of protection – being rounded up by Thai soldiers and sent back against their will during the Christmas season, and the possible violence that could result, is very worrisome. On December 17th I joined other Senators in a letter to the Thai Prime Minister about this, and I ask that a copy be printed in the Record at the end of my remarks.
As Chairman of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee which funds international assistance programs, I have supported U.S. military training programs and other assistance to the Thai military. We share common interests and want to continue to work together. But after the deplorable forced repatriation to China of Uighur refugees by Cambodian authorities last week, we expect better of the Thai Government. Should the Hmong be treated similarly it could badly damage the Thai military’s reputation, and put our military collaboration at risk. http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getpage.cgi?dbname=2009_record&page=S13870&position=all
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