Cambodian Chams Deny Role in Thai Unrest

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)


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