Thai Officials: More Cham Muslims on the Move

Thai officials have noted a surge in the number of ethnic Cam­bod­ian Cham Muslims traveling to the south of Thailand, ac­cording to a re­port from the Thai News Agen­cy.

More than 100 Cambodian Chams—most of them men—have been entering Thailand each day, many claiming to visit relatives or to travel on to Malaysia for religious studies, the agency reported Thurs­day.

But Thai immigration officials told the agency they are thoroughly inspecting the Cambodian Chams, worried that their increase in numbers may be linked to violent groups in the Muslim-dominated southern provinces of Nara­thiwat, Pattani and Yala.

“We fear that these Cambodian Mus­lims might have been lured by the southern insurgents to take part in their activities,” deputy im­migration police Chief Lieutenant Colonel Nirut Reungjinda told TNA.

According to TNA, Nirut added that most of the Chams have valid pass­ports and visas, which at roughly 20,000 baht (about $500), would normally be too costly for them.

Cambodian officials on Sunday denied any link between the rise in Cham travelers and Thai insurgent groups.

“Chams in Cambodia are not difficult,” said Sith Ybrahim, an ethnic Cham and secretary of state of the Ministry of Cults and Religious Af­fairs. “We are just a Cham minority and are not involved.”

“We cross the border because we are [living in] difficult [conditions] and are poor,” he added.

An increasing number of Chams have been producing passports in order to find work in Thai­land and Malaysia as fishermen or laborers, he said.

“We are worried of being ac­cused [of terrorist activity] when pas­sing Thailand to work in Ma­lay­sia,” Sith Ybrahim said.

At Banteay Meachey province’s Poi­pet commune, which borders Thai­land, deputy commune Chief San Seanhor acknowledged that at least 100 Chams cross the border each day. But he, too, said they were merely migrating to find work.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith also doubted that Cam­bodian Chams could be involved in terrorist activities in Thailand.

 

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