Window to Chiang Mai Thailand
They may be one tribe, but the Hmong in Thailand often have conflicting backgrounds, which doesn't make settling them easier.
From Prasong Charasdamrong and Surath Jinakul, Bangkok Post
The Hmong tribal people are called Hmongs. They live in mountainous forest areas in Laos, Myanmar and Thailand.
In Thailand, there are approximately 100,000 Hmongs in various communities in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Kamphaengphet, Tak and Phetchabun. The largest Hmong community, at the open holding center at Wat Tham Krabok in Phra Bhudhabart district of Saraburi, has about 20,000 people. The center used to be run by the late Phra Chamroon Panchan, a Magsaysay award winning monk.
The Hmong are mostly farmers. Like the local Thais, Laotians or Burmese, many Hmong joined the communist insurgents some years ago, while others remained on the side of the democratic governments.
Communist Hmong: In 1980, during the chapter of Thai history when the country was at war with the communists, then prime minister Gen. Prem Tinsulanonda issued Order 65/23 and Order 66123 advocating political measures, as opposed to military force, to win the communists over.
The orders mainly instructed the government to grant amnesty to communist fighters after they surrender to authorities. They also offered permanent shelter, farmland and basic necessities to assist them to return to ,leading normal live,,;. These measures include occupational training.
Following the order, many communist fighters, including Thais and tribal minorities, returned to society. On 27 December 1982, some 7,000 of them surrendered to government authorities in the northern province of Nan. Records show that 5,,850 of them were Hmong.
On 30 May 1983, in Mukdaharn province in the northeast, 1,000 communist fighters surrendered to the authorities in the province. Over half were indigenous people, mostly Hmong.
Five years later, another 1,000 Hmong communists laid down their arms and joined the program, after which they became known as the "Thailand developers". Like other "developers", the Hmong have been allocated land for settlement in villages along the northern borders around Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Tak. Others were sent for settlement in Kamphaengphet and Phetchabun where Hmong communities have been established.
Up to 70 percent of these former communist Hmong now have Thai citizenship.
Tham Krabok: In 1958, Tham Krabok was officially established as a Samnak Song (monk center) by the Buddhist nun, Mae Chee Boonruen. The center had nothing to do with Hmongs then.
A Special Branch Division police sergeant at the time Chamroon resigned and entered the monkhood at Bangkhae temple where the monks are Hmong.
Aside from Hmong monks, the temple also shelters Hmong civilians, mostly from Laos. According to some reports, many of them were once rightists who fought under the Laotian general Wang Pao.
Some people believe Phra Chamroon had good connections with the Hmong. However, Phra Chamroon quit the monkhood just before 1970 to run a business. In 1970, the Indochina war heated up.
In 1975, Gen. Wang Pao's special task force of Hmong mercenaries was defeated by communist soldiers. The task force was ordered to cut communist supplies to Laos from China and North Vietnam. After the defeat, with UN help, the Hmong fighters and their families - some 10,000 people - crossed the border to the refugee centers at Ban Vinai in the Pak Chom district of Loei.
Prior to this, the former Phra Chamroon rejoined the monkhood in Lopburi. This time he went to Tham Krabok and turned Samnak Song into a drug rehabilitation center open to all nationalities. He also applied for and received permission from the Education Ministry to upgrade the status of Tham Krabok from a monk center to a temple (Wat).
The money: Several years after the Indochina war, when international refugee donations dried up and the Hmong population had swelled to 20,000, the Interior Ministry could no longer support the Ban Vinai refugee camp.
With the authorities' permission, some Hmongs began to move to Wat Tham Krabok which was designated as an open holding center. This meant that the Hmong could move about freely, work, or do business. They did not have to register or hold refugees cards. According to some observers, the former rightist fighters preferred to stay at Wat Tham Krabok, not only because of the freedom but also because they respect the abbot personally.
The more educated of the 20,000 Hmong - former rightist fighters, their families, and children born in the camp - went to various other countries such as the United States. Some send money to relatives at Wat Tham Krabok.
According to several sources, influential civilians in the temple compound take commissions on the money sent in - "Up to ten percent for sure." The Hmong at the temple don't have ID cards, so they can't have bank accounts. Relatives abroad transfer the money to the accounts of Thai civilians. "Some Hmong who work on farms or other occupations also pay these influential people five to ten percent of their earnings," another source revealed.
Hmong rightist fighters and their families are not the only ones to suffer in this way at Wat Tham Krabok. Other Hmong who stay there also have to pay up.
Other Hmong: The remnants of Gen. Wafig Pao's Hmongs live together in their own area known as Zone One, where there are up to 20,000 people. Another exclusive area, Zone Two, comprises Hmong from another back- ground: former rightist fighters allied to the Thai government who fought the Communist Party of Thailand, received the gratitude of the Thai government, and now live in settlements in Chiang Rai, particularly on mountains in the Mae Fah Luang district.
The more remote areas have been dominated by minorities, including the Kuomintang (KMT), the former 93rd division of the Chinese Army. Remnants of the KMT have been dealing with illegal drugs through drug agents in Myanmar.
Some of these Hmongs have gone into the drug trade, while many others have become addicts themselves.
Many of the addicted Hmongs moved into Wat Tham Krabok for treatment. Hmong culture and tradition dictates that they move with their families, never alone. As such, the Hmong population connected with drug rehabilitation in Zone Two could easily be as many as 6,000.
Many former communist Hmong fighters who became "Thailand Developers" have been settled along the borders in Mae Hong Son, as well as in the Phrop Phra and the Mae Sod districts of Tak, also moved to Wat Tham Krabok.
Nobody says why, but one theory is that many of them are drug addicted and were sent there by the authorities. Again, they usually come with their families. In all, there are about 2,000 such Hmong in Zone Three.
The other zone: Zone Four at Wat Tham Krabok holds about 3,000 Hmongs who don't fall into the other categories, according to police and military officers. They are neither former communist fighters nor anticommunist fighters, and they are neither from Laos (Wang Pao's Hmong) nor from any specific border areas.
"In other words, they come from anywhere," says an inside source. Some intelligence officers say these Hmongs are mostly illegal immigrants who arrived from Laos or Myanmar. According to one police officer, many arrived at Wat Tham Krabok pretending to be seeking treatment for drug addiction.
Another officer claimed that many of these Hmong have strong connections with drug trafficking rings inside Myanmar. Including families and children, Zone Four residents number about 4,000.
National security officials have long worried about having Hmongs from these different backgrounds living close to each other near the national nerve center (the capital and the central plains). Former communist fighters, anticommunist fighters and related drug traffickers is a potentially volatile mix, they say.
Furthermore, narcotics suppression authorities, now have reason to believe some Hmong elements have become a key part of the illicit drug production and trafficking industry.
See also: The Hmong in Chiang Mai