BANGKOK - Thailand's prime minister reassured officials from neighbouring Laos Friday that his country is pushing forward with plans to repatriate 6,000 ethnic Hmong refugees by the year's end, a spokesman said.
The ethnic minority Hmong live in camps in northeast Thailand and are seeking political asylum, claiming they face persecution from the communist regime at home because they fought alongside US forces during the Vietnam war.
On a visit to Thailand, Lieutenant General Douangchay Phichit, the Laotian deputy prime minister, discussed the issue with Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva in Bangkok, government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said.
"The Thai government stands firm in line with the agreement that Thailand will complete its repatriation of Hmong from Phetchabun and Nongkhai provinces within this year," Panitan Wattanayagorn said.
Since May 2008, Thailand had repatriated 3,059 Hmong, he added.
"We will expedite the repatriation of the remaining 6,000 Hmong within this year, but we have to take readiness of both sides into consideration and the repatriations are voluntary," Panitan Wattanayagorn said.
Paris-based Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders, in May pulled out of a camp where it fed some 4,700 Hmong, accusing Thailand of trying to forcibly repatriate them to Laos.
Thailand says the Hmong refugees are economic migrants seeking work.
Bangkok has lately cultivated Laos as a key regional ally, with energy-hungry Thailand buying increasing amounts of electricity from its northeastern neighbour.