Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday dismissed a senior Thai official’s allegations linking Cambodian Muslims to the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist network and violence in southern Thailand, while a Thai diplomat said his embassy had no evidence to substantiate the claims.
In a Bangkok Post report on Saturday, General Wattanachai Chaimuenwong, a close aide to Thai Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont, said Cambodians linked to JI had joined the radical Gurakan Mujahideen Islam Pattani insurgent group and infiltrated religious schools in southern Thailand.
Hun Sen called on Surayud to correct the general’s statements.
“Cambodia is not a terrorist hiding place to attack Thailand…. Cambodian Chams are poor, but they don’t work for militants in southern Thailand,” Hun Sen said during a groundbreaking ceremony in Kandal province that was broadcast on radio.
“The Thai spokesman should not have used that kind of language…. I cannot tolerate the accusation,” he added.
Hun Sen said Cambodia was prepared to engage constructively with Thailand on counter-terrorism, but accused Thai officials of scapegoating Cambodia because of their inability to cope with their own internal security problems.
“Thailand is wise enough to solve its problems, but they cannot drag in Cambodia…through groundless accusations,” he said. “They are weak themselves, but they have blamed other people,” he added.
“If there is evidence, they should not disseminate it through the media—they should send the report to Cambodia.”
Hun Sen called on Cambodians to continue patronizing Thai businesses and assured Chams that the Cambodian government does not suspect them of being terrorists.
“Cambodian Chams should not be worried that the government is suspicious of you. The government will stay with you.”
At Hun Sen’s request, Foreign Minister Hor Namhong met Monday with Thai Embassy Charge d’Affaires Surasak Suparat to discuss the matter.
Surasak Suparat said his embassy was still trying to check with Bangkok about the allegations, but said the embassy did not possess any proof to substantiate Wattanachai’s claims.
“We don’t have evidence that Cambodian Muslims did that. We have to check why the officer said that in the newspaper,” he told reporters outside the Foreign Ministry, adding that he would convey the Cambodian government’s response to Bangkok.
Hor Namhong said he had initially refrained from responding to the Thai general, who first alleged last month that Cambodian and Indonesian extremists were leading terrorist training camps in southern Thailand, but said the gravity of the most recent allegations compelled him to respond.
“The first time, we didn’t respond because we wanted to keep cooperation—we thought [Wattanachai] was young and newly skilled in politics. This second time is a serious accusation…that the government cannot accept,” Hor Namhong told reporters.
“In Cambodia, we don’t have JI…so far, we have arrested JI before they committed the crime,” he said, adding that Wattanachai’s claims were affecting relations between Cambodia and Thailand, but that Cambodia would still cooperate with its neighbor.
Wattanachai on Monday defended his allegation that some Cambodian Muslims were linked to the JI terror network, the Associated Press reported.
“The Cambodian government cannot deny that there are JI networks in their country, because Cambodian authorities have recently arrested JI members in Battambang [province],” AP quoted Wattanachai as saying.
Deputy National Police Commissioner Sok Phal, who works on counterterrorism, said this was not correct. The last time Cambodian authorities arrested JI members was in 2003 following a visit to the country by Riduan Isamuddin, an Indonesian better known as Hambali, Sok Phal added. Hambali, who was later arrested in Thailand, was believed to be al-Qaida’s top operative in the region.
“It’s an old case,” Sok Phal said by phone. “There are no terrorist suspects [in Cambodia].”
Sok Phal added, however, that 51 Cambodian Cham Muslims who crossed into Thailand were arrested and detained by Thai authorities last week as “suspects of terrorism,” adding that they had been carrying proper Cambodian passports and Thai visas.
Sok Phal said he did not know where the Cambodians had been arrested or whether they are still detained.
Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said he had no knowledge of any recent terrorism-related arrests in Cambodia, other than four men apprehended in Pursat province last month accused of forming a so-called “Khmer Empire Movement” that officials said was planning to attack Vietnam and Thailand.
US Embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle said the US was concerned about the continuing unrest in southern Thailand, but said there was no firm proof that foreign terrorists were involved.
“There is no hard evidence of foreign terrorist involvement,” Daigle wrote in an e-mail Monday.
“There have been no credible claims of responsibility by any group or individual [for the attacks in southern Thailand],” he added.