There are an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 Meo tribesmen who have fled Laos and taken up residence in refugee camps inside Thailand.
There are an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 Meo tribesmen who have fled Laos and taken up residence in refugee camps inside Thailand. May of them fought with an American supported jungle army under General Vang Pao against the pro-Communist Pathet Leo. As the Pathet Lao has grown in power, more and more Meo tribesmen have fled, across the Mekong River to the safety of Thailand.
But their presence in Thailand presents a thorny problem for the Thai Government. Thailand is seeking to establish friendly relations with Cambodia and Laos, but the existence within Thai borders of nearly 200,000 refugees who have fled the increasingly pro-Communist Governments in those two countries is awkward diplomatically.
It has even been reported that the United States may be assisting the Meo refugees in their flight from Laos and financing the refugee camps. The United States has not confirmed this.
In addition to the Meo tribesmen, many other political and military opponents of the Pathet Lao have fled to Thailand. Last week, Thai Prime Minister Kukrit Pramoj said Thailand would remove its consults from two Laotian towns and set them up on the border until Laos could guarantee the safety of Thai officials. He said they would not be safe in Vientians, the Laotian capital, as long as Laotian refugees in Thailand were plotting against the pathet lao.
Laotian Prime Minister Prince Souvanna Phouma has asked the refugees to return, promising them they would be forgiven. he made the statement after he explained that recent shifts in his cabinet which favoured the Pathet Lao were in keeping with the new political situation.
As a result, a small number of Meo tribesmen have returned. Fifty were found living in a warehouse outside Vientiane.
Meantime, throughout Laos the Pathet Lac continues to strengthen its grip on the Government and the countryside. Often this takes a humanitarian from as Pathet Lao units provide medical assistance to the sick and injured.