A U.S. senator says he will urge Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to press for the release of 158 Hmong refugees during scheduled talks with senior Laotian officials.
Senator Al Franken says he personally urged Laotian authorities to take steps toward releasing the refugees during a visit to the Southeast Asian country this week.
About 4,500 members of the Hmong minority were repatriated in December to Laos from Thailand, which described them as economic migrants. But the United Nations has identified 158 of them as political refugees, and they have been offered new homes in the United States, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands.
Laos has told foreign diplomats that the refugees want to stay in Laos.
Franken, who is also visiting Vietnam with two other U.S. senators, was able to meet with some Hmong while in Laos, but complained that his movements were closely monitored and that his access was limited.
Large numbers of Hmong were permitted to immigrate to the United States after fighting alongside U.S. troops during the Vietnam War. Many of them settled in Franken's home state of Minnesota.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.