A senior security adviser to Thailand’s prime minister claimed Thursday that extremists from Cambodia and Indonesia were training violent separatists in Thailand’s largely Muslim south, Agence France-Presse reported.
General Watanachai Chaimuanwong was also reported to have said that Thai authorities were investigating claims that hundreds of Cambodian Muslims tied to the regional terrorists group Jemaah Islamiyah had made their way into Thailand.
“There are overseas experts from Indonesia and Cambodia conducting weapons training, bomb making and war tactics. We do not know the exact number, but I think there are not many,” AFP quoted Watanachai as saying.
“This is not doing any good to the current situation, because they are real warriors and tough fighters,” the general added.
AFP describes Watanachai as being a close friend and adviser to Thai Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont.
More than 2,100 people have died in three years of fighting in Thailand’s three southernmost provinces as separatist insurgents have tried to break free of Thai rule. The area was a former sultanate annexed by predominantly Buddhist Thailand a century ago.
Cambodian Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith on Friday called Watanachai’s comments “a gross accusation and not good behavior for a neighboring country that has diplomatic relations with Cambodia.”
Khieu Kanharith said that the government and Cambodian Muslims both want to see a quick and peaceful end to the fighting in southern Thailand.
“To try to use Cambodian Muslims as a scapegoat, it is inappropriate,” he said, adding that the general’s remarks were not the official position of the Thai government.
Mufti Sos Kamry, the religious leader of Cambodia’s Muslim community, said that many Chams do enter Thailand each year, but only on their way to predominantly Muslim Malaysia or to work in Thai factories.
Sos Kamry added that this is not the first time that Thai officials have claimed that Cambodian Muslims are stoking tensions in Southern Thailand.
“There have been many cases already where they said that,” he said. “But when we do an investigation, we find none.”
A receptionist at the Thai Embassy said that no officials were available to speak to a reporter Friday.
(Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul)