Thailand has begun the forced repatriation of some 4,000 ethnic Hmong people back to Laos despite concerns for their safety.
The first trucks loaded mainly with women and children left the refugee camp guarded by soldiers who were unarmed but equipped with riot shields and batons.
Thailand claims most of the people at the camp have no legitimate claim to refugee status but are simply economic migrants who have entered the country illegally.
Many of the Hmong say they face persecution in their homeland because of the Communist government’s antagonism towards them.
Hmong hill tribe people fought on the side of the pro-American government during the Vietnam War but the Communist side emerged triumphant in 1975.
Thai army Colonel Thana Charuwat said: “There are about 300 people who are still refusing to go and we are trying to persuade them so we won’t have to use force and the process will be smooth.”
The Thai government says an agreement has been reached with Laos to repatriate all the refugees by the end of the year.
The United States and human rights groups have expressed concern over the expulsions saying some of the Hmong could qualify for refugee status and should not be sent back.
In the past Laos has denied any responsibility for the Hmong saying they are not citizens of Laos – describing them as Thailand’s problem.