Hmong leaders seek help from Obama

National Hmong leaders in Fresno are asking President Barack Obama to intervene on behalf of 4,500 Hmong who were forcibly repatriated from Thailand to Laos this week.

In a letter to Obama, the Fresno-based Lao Veterans of America Institute, which calls itself the nation's largest Hmong and Lao veterans organization, accuses the Thai military of brutalizing refugees who objected to the repatriation.

Laos denied the U.N. immediate access to the refugees, saying Wednesday that it would "complicate" matters but that international observers could visit later, The Associated Press reported.

Thailand deported the Hmong on Monday in a massive 24-hour military operation, ignoring concerns by the U.N., the United States and others that the Hmong could face persecution by the Lao government, the AP reported.

Wangyee Vang, president of the Lao Veterans of America Institute, said refugees have called his organization by cell phone to describe the abuse and ask for help.

"They've been forced back to Laos, beaten and abused," Vang said.

Thai and Laotian officials maintain that the refugees have been treated humanely.

The Valley, which has one of the largest Hmong populations in the U.S., is home to a number of Hmong with relatives who once lived in the Thai refugee camps, said Philip Smith, a former congressional staffer serving as the Washington representative for Lao Veterans of America.

He said he has repeatedly spoken to refugees during the repatriation. Some of them were able to hide cell phones from the Thai military, he said.

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