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U.N. PROGRAM SENDS REFUGEES HOME

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The 10,000th Vietnamese returnee from Thailand departed for home Tuesday aboard a U.N.-arranged voluntary repatriation flight from Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, a U.N. official said.

Ruprecht von Arnim, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representative in Thailand, said that while many of the Vietnamese were disappointed at not being accepted for resettlement in the United States and other countries, "the prevailing attitude is resignation.""They wanted a new life on the golden beaches of California and it didn't become a reality," he said.

But he said there have been no organized demonstrations against the repatriations as there have been by Vietnamese boat people in camps in Hong Kong.

"It may be a cliche, but it's true that there's no place like home," von Arnim said. "At UNHCR we are happy that more Vietnamese are ending years of frustration and an unproductive life in camps in Thailand. From all reports it is apparent that Vietnam is booming and surely the returnees have a greater chance of personal fulfillment there rather than languishing any longer in the confinement of camps here."

The U.N. repatriation program was established in 1989 after it became clear that Western countries, where thousands of Vietnamese boat people wished to resettle, would not accept them.

The United States and other countries distinguished between political refugees and economic refugees, disqualifying the latter category.

According to the UNHCR, a total of 8,575 Vietnamese asylum seekers remained in Thailand as of last week, only 1,500 of whom have been granted the refugee status required for resettlement in third countries.

They are housed in two camps in eastern Thailand, Phanat Nikhom and Sikhiu.

All the remaining Vietnamese asylum seekers are expected to be repatriated to their homeland within the next year and a half.

In a related development, the UNHCR said a group of 323 Hmong refugees is scheduled to return voluntarily from Thailand to Laos on Thursday.

This will bring the cumulative number of returnees under the UNHCR's voluntary repatriation program for Laotian refugees to 17,763 since its inception, according to the UNHCR.

About 12,000 Hmong remain at the Ban Napho camp in the northeastern Thai province of Nakhon Phanom, von Arnim said.

Thousands of Hmong hilltribesmen, many of whom worked for the American Central Intelligence Agency during the Indochina wars, fled to Thailand in the wake of the defeat of U.S.-backed regime in Laos in 1975.