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US Lawmaker Visits Hmong Refugees in Laos

Hmong refugees collect water at Huay Nam Khao village in Thailand's northeastern province of Petchabun (FILE)

U.S. Senator Al Franken says Laotian officials restricted his access to 4,500 Hmong refugees who were forcibly repatriated from Thailand last year.

The lawmaker traveled to Laos on Tuesday to observe the living conditions of the refugees. He says he spoke with a group of 150 Hmong at village being built for them by the government, and took an aerial tour by helicopter.

Franken told reporters after his visit that he was "unhappy" with the amount of access he was granted. He says he was accompanied by a high-ranking military official throughout his visit.

The Democratic senator represents Minnesota, which has one of the largest Hmong expatriate communities in the United States.

The senator traveled to Laos as part of a three-member delegation traveling to Vietnam this week, including Tom Harkin of Iowa and independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont.