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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 December, 2003, 14:04 GMT
US to take Hmong refugees
Hmong rebel fighter
The Hmong have suffered since the Vietnam War
The United States has offered to take up to 15,000 Hmong refugees who fled the 1975 communist takeover in Laos and are living in a camp in Thailand.

US ambassador to Bangkok, Darryl Johnson, said Washington felt a "special responsibility" to the Hmong people of Laos.

During the Vietnam War large numbers of ethnic Hmong sided with the US army as the conflict spread into neighbouring Laos, and played an important support role.

But at the end of the war, the US Government stopped its support for the Hmong. When a communist movement ousted the US-backed Lao royal family in 1975, as many as a third of the Hmong population are thought to have fled.

Mr Johnson said everyone who passed medical examinations and background checks, and was registered with the Wat Tham Krabok camp as of August 2003, could be resettled in the US. The process will begin in February next year.

The US State Department says there are 14,000-15,000 refugees in the camp.

Based near Saraburi, 130 km (80 miles) north of Bangkok, it is the only official refugee centre in Thailand for Hmong refugees, and is regarded by the Thai authorities as a base for rebel activities.

"This is an issue we have watched for a long time," Mr Johnson said.

"We have long felt that we have a special responsibility to the people of Hmong origin from Laos."

Refugees told Reuters news agency that they were looking forward to rejoining relatives living in the US.

"We want to go for the sake of our children's future. Here they don't have the right to go to school beyond the sixth grade. They don't have any shoes and their clothes are all torn," one man his 20s said.

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