Prominent Cham Muslims voiced skepticism Tuesday at recent reports in Thailand’s print media suggesting that Cambodians have contributed to the unrest in strife-torn southern Thailand.
“We are living quietly and peacefully. Why are we accused like this?” Othsman Hassan, a former CPP lawmaker, said in response to Sunday’s story in The Bangkok Post headlined, “Security Fears Over Cambodian Muslims.”
The Post reported that about 50 Cambodian Muslim students had disappeared from their schools before a Jan 4 weapons heist, which occurred at a Narathiwat province military post. The source of the Post’s information was not cited.
Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has linked the theft of hundreds of weapons to a surge in the area’s violence, which culminated in security forces killing more than 100 Islamic militants last week.
The Post reported that a “police source said security agencies had collected fingerprints and blood samples from the 106 southern militants killed in [the April 28] violence in Yala, Pattani and Songkhla [provinces] to see whether any were foreigners.”
“The Cambodian Muslim students had overstayed their visas, gone missing and had never returned to Cambodia after graduating from ponoh schools in Pattani late last year,” the Post reported. The article concluded with the mention of teachers from schools in southern Thailand being arrested in Cambodia on suspicion of terrorist activity.
Two Thai teachers and one Egyptian teacher were arrested last May at a Saudi Arabian-backed Islamic school in Kandal province. Their trial has been roundly criticized for suffering from starts, stops, scant evidence and muddled proceedings.
“What evidence does Thailand have to accuse Cambodian Muslims of being involved in the attacks? They should have evidence and names before making accusations,” Othsman Hassan said.
“There are Cambodian Muslims studying in Thailand, but we don’t know who they are, and Thailand knows where they live and where they study, because they live under Thai authority. I would like to see Thailand pursue justice, not violence,” the former legislator said.
Monday’s edition of The Nation, another Bangkok-based English-language newspaper, carried a story headlined “Cambodian Muslims Seek Promised Land.” It reported that about 100 Chams crossed into Thailand on Sunday, bound for the “Islamic State of Pattani.”
“We are going to live in Pattani in the future. It’s an independent state where all Muslims can settle down and get jobs,” a Cambodian Muslim named De Win was quoted as saying.
The Nation reported that Islamic clerics had made travel arrangements for the Cambodians, taking them into Thailand in groups of five to 10 people.
According to The Nation report, De Win, 17, said the clerics told him he would have to first study Islam and work on a rubber plantation in Malaysia before settling in Pattani. De Win’s clerical handler then ended the interview.
Zachrya Adam, a Cham and undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Cult and Religions, confirmed Monday that a large number of Cambodian Muslims, en route to work on a Malaysian rubber plantation, crossed into Thailand on Sunday.
He said Thai authorities issued the Cambodians transit visas but said they had no intention of living in Thailand. “As far as I know, no Cambodian Muslims stay in Pattani. They live in Malaysia, legally and illegally, because they can earn a lot of money there,” Zachrya Adam said.
(Additional reporting by Yun Samean)