Thai General Repeats Cham Rebel Claim

A senior Thai official has again al­leged that Cambodian Cham Mus­lims with links to the Jemaah Islam­iyah terrorist network have infiltrated southern Thailand, the Bang­kok Post reported on Saturday, prompting renewed claims from of­ficials in Phnom Penh that Thai­land is trying to scapegoat Cambo­dia for its internal problems.

General Wattanachai Chaimuen­wong, a close aide to Thai Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont, told the Bangkok Post that Cambodian Chams crossing the border into Thailand were joining the radical Gurakan Mujahideen Islam Pattani insurgent group and infiltrating religious schools in Thailand’s predominantly Muslim south.

“Even though I do not know where they are, I can say Cam­bodi­ans with alleged JI links are now in the southern part of Thai­land,” the Bangkok Post quoted Wattanachai as saying in a front-page story entitled “Cambo­dians in JI Terror Link.”

Wattanachai said that numerous Cambodian Muslims have recently arrived in Thailand legally en route to Malaysia, but there is no record of their departure from Thailand.

“We do not know exactly where they end up. Some go to religious schools and pursue religious studies in the deep south,” the Bang­kok Post quoted him as saying. The situation underlines the need for intelligence cooperation be­tween Thai­land and Cambodia, he said. “This [influx of Cambodians] is linked to the southern separatist insurgency,” the Bangkok Post quoted him as saying.

Cambodian Information Minis­ter and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said that before Thai officials make such claims, they should provide evidence to back them up.

“Show us proof [of the terrorist links]…before making statements about neighboring countries,” Khieu Kanharith said by phone Sunday. “We don’t see people from competent authorities who have it.”

Khieu Kanharith claimed that an­other Thai official—Royal Thai Ar­my commander Colonel Chai­chai­yan Sothornchai—had asked the Thai government to stop issuing visas to any Cambodian Muslims.

“This is not fair. If they stop is­suing visas to all Cambodia Mus­lims, we should stop allowing Thai product imports to Cam­bodia,” he said, adding that such a move would make Cam­bodia a “scapegoat” without solving Thai­land’s problem.

Khieu Kanharith also said security issues should be solv­ed through “the proper channels” of government ministries in accordance with agreements between the Cambo­dian and Thai governments.

“If there are security issues, security services from both sides must cooperate,” he said.

Officials from the Thai Embassy could not be reached for comment.

According to the Bangkok Post, Wattanachai said there were “frequent arrests” of terrorist suspects in Cambodia and cited the capture of Riduan Isamuddin, an Indone­sian better known as Hambali, who spent time in Cambodia before his 2003 arrest in Thailand. Hambali was believed to be al-Qaida’s top op­erative in the region.

Wattanachai did not name any other terrorist suspects, but police in Pursat province last month ar­rested four men linked to a so-cal­led “Khmer Empire Movement” that Cambodian officials said had been plotting to attack Vietnam and Thailand to try and regain Cambo­dian territory lost centuries ago.

Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said Sunday that while Cambodia might produce one or two terrorists, it is not a major terrorist breeding ground. “The Cham minority is very good, very peaceful, and they conform to the law of Cambodia,” Khieu Sopheak said.

Cambodia will support Thai­land’s attempt to crack down on terrorism if it finds proof of named Cambodians who have violated the law, he said. “The Ministry of In­terior never supports any individual terrorist,” he said.

SRP lawmaker Ahmad Yahya, a prominent member of the Cham community, said Thailand has not provided any evidence to substantiate its claims about radical Cambo­dian Chams in southern Thailand. He called upon Thailand to provide a list of any such individuals to Cambodia’s Interior Ministry.

“When they have a problem there, they blame it here,” he said, adding that Cambodia’s Chams are not radicalized.

Last month, Wattanachai backed down from his public allegation that Cambodian and Indonesian extremists were training insurgents in Thailand’s restive South, saying the government lacked sufficient evidence at the time to confirm their nationalities.

Kek Galabru, president of local rights group Licadho, said the Thai government may be trying to scapegoat Cambodian Muslims due to its inability to contain the se­paratist violence in the Muslim-dominated south, where the death toll since 2004 has topped 2,100.

“They are very nervous right now with the bombings in the south—it affects the economy [and] tourism,” Kek Galabru said.

            (Additional reporting by Thet Sambath)


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