Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) Thailand had decided to repatriate more than 6,000 Hmong refugees who had fled to the Khao Kho district in its northern province of Phetchabun, Thais security authorities reported.
After a meeting of security agencies last week, they resolved that all Hmong present in Khao Kho would be forced back over the borders to Laos, General Pallop Pinmanee, deputy director of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), said.
"If Laos refuses to take the Hmong back, [Thai] authorities will take all means necessary to push them back across the border," he said.
"The government has no policy to open a refugee camp to house the illegal immigrants," he added.
According to Pallop, Hmong in Khao Kao constitute a problem for the country's security.
District authorities said anyone sheltering the refugees, which they consider illegal immigrants, would face stiff penalties.
''Now we are waiting for the appropriate time. We will truck them to the border regardless of whether the Lao authorities accept them or not," Pallop explained.
In the meantime, Laos has deployed troops along its border with Thailand.
Anonymous sources from the area said the Hmong fled from Laos to Khao Kho district in September 2004. Many others followed reportedly paying 2,000 baht (US$ 40) each to the human traffickers.
The same sources said that Laos does not recognise the Hmong as its citizens and refuses to take them back.
A top Thai army officer said that criminal gangs lured the refugees by convincing them that they would get a chance to be resettled in third countries, including the US, if they crossed the border at Khao Kho.
On Tuesday, a two-year-old Hmong girl died of dysentery and fever after the group with which she was travelling was forced out of its temporary shelter in Phetchabun pending repatriation to Laos.
In Laos, ethnic Hmong constitute a minority that has been subjected to intense discrimination and has suffered repeated acts of violence, in part because of the support they gave to the United States during the Vietnam War.
The refugees have refused forced repatriation denouncing the lack of human rights protection, freedom and democracy in Communist Laos.
In Laos, most ethnic minorities are Christian and Hmong are doubly persecuted. Not only does the Laotian government consider Christianity a violation of Laotian customs, but also sees it as a "foreign imperialistic religion" backed by Western and US political interests.