Chams Saddened by Violence in South Thailand

Cham Muslim Him Sen will say a special prayer during the holy month of Ramadan for the more than 80 Muslims killed after a riot in Thailand’s southern Na­ra­­thiwat province last week.

Him Sen, 63, who works at the Nural Easan mosque in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district, said he was saddened by the deaths and the escalating sectarian violence in the neighboring country.

“Authorities over there should find a compromise to solve the dispute without taking human lives,” he said Sunday.

“We prayed to our lord Allah to persuade the Thai Muslim people to resolve their anger and to follow the law and constitution of the country they belong to,” he added.

On Oct 25, at least 85 Thai Mus­­­lims were killed after a violent protest outside a police station to demand the release of six Muslim men.

According to a statement from the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh, the crowd of 3,000 demonstrators turned violent and hurled stones at security forces, who responded by firing water cannons and tear gas.

Six people were killed in the ensuing clash, while another 78 arrested were crushed to death or asphyxiated as they were transported for interrogation in army trucks, the statement said.

A seventh victim injured in the original clash died later.

According to news reports, more than 400 people have been killed in clashes in southern Thailand this year.

While members of Cambodia’s Cham Muslim community say they sympathize with their Mus­lim neighbors in Thailand, they urged for a peaceful resolution and remained distanced from the insurgency there.

“Look at this,” said Him Sen pointing to a Cambodian flag and a portrait of King Norodom Siha­moni on the front fence of his mosque.

“We follow the law of a country we live in. If we go astray from any law, we get in trouble,” he said.

Joining in the conversation, Seu Kem, chief imam for the Nural Easan mosque, agreed.

“Respecting the law of the country that we live in will earn us peace,” Seu Kem said.

Cambodian Muslims have few ties to Thailand and live largely in peace here, said Ahmad Yahya, an opposition lawmaker and prominent member of the Cham community.

As such, he said, he was surprised by a recent UN Security Council committee’s report warning that Cambodia could harbor terrorists and cited discrimination against Cham Muslims in southern Cambodia as a cause for concern.

According to that report from Heraldo Munoz, chairman of a committee on terrorist groups, Cambodia was at risk of becoming a haven for terrorism if it did not receive foreign help to improve its anti-terrorism programs.

While Ahmad Yahya agreed that lax security at Cambodia’s entry points could make it easy for terrorists—or anyone—to come into the country, “Cambo­dia is a safe place,” he said Tues­day.

Asked whether Chams faced discrimination here, he said: “Officially, no.”

“In their hearts,” he said,  some Cambodians view Chams differently than Khmers, but such feelings are unlikely to stir unrest.

A mob attack by Khmers in April that killed two Cham men in Kompong Cham province was an anomaly, Ahmad Yahya said.

“That was the worst case I’ve seen in 10 years,” he said, but added that tensions between the Cham and Khmer communities have since died down and are not likely to flare up again.

As for the violence in southern Thailand, he said, the government of Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra should try to engage in peaceful dialogue to reach stability in the region.

If the Thai government continues its crackdown on the south, “Thailand could be attacked by extremists,” he said.

Echoing his comments, Islamic student Ly Rosa, 20, appealed to the Thai government to avoid force.

“Waging violence and war will never win,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Wency Leung)


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