A leading advocate for the Khmer Krom community, the name referring to the ethnic Khmer community in Vietnam, wrote on Wednesday to Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and the UN refugee agency asking for intervention in the case of 62 Khmer Krom people who were allegedly arrested in Thailand on June 12.
Though reports have circulated since the weekend of the mass round-up, the majority of whom activists claim are asylum seekers fleeing Vietnam, the group of 62 has not surfaced despite claims by Khmer Krom support groups that they were to be deported through the Poipet border crossing Monday.
Thach Setha, chief of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Community organization and source of the original round-up reports and now author of the letters to Mr Abhisit and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, claimed Wednesday that the 62 are still in Thai police custody.
“These victims are my compatriots and the news of their arrests caused me great concern for their safety. Therefore, I beg you to assist me in your capacity as the head of the government of Thailand to secure their release and to prevent the refoulement of these people to either Vietnam or Cambodia where they could face up with a severe repercussion,” Mr Setha wrote to Mr Abhisit.
Reached Wednesday, Mr Setha claimed that a UN source had told him the 62, off which 59 have letters of protection from the UN refugee agency, are in prison.
Toshitsuki Kawauchi, protection officer for UNHCR Cambodia, wrote by e-mail Tuesday that the office “does not have confirmation on the deportation of the reported group of Khmer Krom from Thailand to Cambodia.”
Many senior Cambodian officials have denied having any knowledge of the group, a response echoed by officials at the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh.
“If they ever send Khmer people from Thailand, they will of course contact my office. And if they come I will let you know,” said Pol Sinoun, director of the northwest military commission office for the Thai-Cambodia border.
Sao Bunrith, chief of immigration police at the Poipet border crossing, said on Wednesday that he too had no news of Khmer Krom deportees.
Poipet Municipal Police Chief Nuth Ly said that the mass arrests of the Khmer Krom could simply have been a rumor.