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Second Group of Vietnamese Refugees Forcibly Repatriated

May 2, 1996

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) _ A group of 126 Vietnamese boarded buses and were taken to a navy ship bound for Vietnam on Thursday in the second round of a forced repatriation from camps here.

Under heavy police escort, the six-bus convoy took the refugees from Sungei Besi Refugee Camp to Kuantan, 120 miles east of Kuala Lumpur, for the 30-hour return trip.

Another group of 317 Vietnamese were sent back in similar fashion on April 18.

The refugees are part of a mass exodus from South Vietnam following its fall to communist North Vietnam in 1975. Thousands remain in camps in several Asian countries, still waiting to reach the United States and other Western countries.

But the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has refused to grant them refugee status, saying they were fleeing poverty rather than political persecution.

Originally, four trips were planned in an effort to clear out the Malaysian camps and close them, but that may be changed to three, said Yaacob Daud, director of the Malaysian government’s Vietnamese Task Force.

``Many of the hardcore refugees who had refused to agree to voluntary repatriation by plane have changed their minds,″ Yaacob told a press conference at the camp.

After Thursday’s repatriation, 1,896 Vietnamese remain in Malaysian camps. Of those, 1,250 have agreed to return voluntarily, leaving 646. Yaacob said the third round of repatriation is likely in the next couple of weeks.

Departing refugees Thursday were frisked and their small bags of belongings were examined.

``I don’t want to go,″ one woman carrying a child cried as she lay down in front of the bus steps. Two riot policemen carried the mother and child onto the bus.

Police intervened as a reporter spoke with a refugee, telling the reporter he was not allowed to interview the refugees.

Of the 126 refugees Thursday, 115 were from the Sungei Besi Camp and 11 were from the Kerayong Camp, near Triang, 42 miles northeast of here.

On Tuesday, 25 people protesting the forced repatriation stabbed themselves; four were hospitalized.

The government is hoping to close Kerayong this week and Sungei Besi before June 30.

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