The United States has said it will initiate a resettlement program for thousands of ethnic Hmong refugees from Laos currently camped in temporary accommodation in Thailand, RFA reports.
Any refugee from the Wat Tham Krabok Temple, near Saraburi, to the north of the Thai capital Bangkok, would be able to apply for resettlement in the United States, subject to background checks and medical examinations, the State Department said in a statement.
The decision is part of a recognition that the problem of the Hmong ethnic minority people in Laos forms part of the legacy of the Vietnam War.
The statement said the new resettlement program applied only to Hmong at the camp, at a Buddhist temple, and to those who had registered with Thai authorities by August 2003. It said registration for resettlement would be open for a limited time, beginning in February next year.
U.S. officials hope the registration process could be completed within six months. The U.S. has set no limit on the number of Hmong it is willing to accept.
Thousands of Hmong fought in a CIA-enlisted army during the U.S. "secret war," which Washington waged across the border from Vietnam in Laos and Cambodia. The CIA used the Hmong army to spearhead U.S. efforts to subdue Laotian communists during the Vietnam war.
Many Hmong, fearing retribution, fled after the communists took over Laos. Hmong guerilla groups have waged sporadic insurgencies against the Lao regime since then.
More than 15,000 Hmong people have been living for years around a Buddhist temple in Thailand after fleeing Laos following the communist takeover of the country in 1975.
Tens of thousands of Hmong refugees have since settled in the United States. Some groups have accused the Lao government of inflicting a calculated program of ethnic cleansing on Hmong still in the country.