Thai authorities have deported eight Cambodian Muslims who were part of a group of 18 arrested after they were initially suspected of training to join separatist insurgents in Thailand’s mainly Muslim southern border region, diplomats said on Monday.
An official at the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said in an interview with RFA’s Khmer Service that the embassy had received notice from the Thai government about only 11 Cambodian Muslims in the group.
She said they were guilty violating immigration laws, not for aiding separatist causes.
“[The 11] are merely accused of overstaying their visas in Thailand,” said the official.
“A couple of them [didn’t even have] passports. The eight that were older than 18 have already been released,” she said.
“After [the] authorities found that they had not committed any serious offenses, they had to pay a fine and were deported,” said the official.
“As for the three minors, Thai law requires them to stay under youth center guidance for a short period, around one month from the date of arrest,” she said.
The official explained that the guidance they would receive involved education aimed at preventing future violations of immigration law.
When asked about the other seven Cambodian Muslims that were part of the 18 reportedly arrested in late January, she said that the embassy had no knowledge of them.
Senior Minister Osman Hassan told local media that the eight who were deported arrived through Poipet border checkpoint on Sunday, and that they would be sent to their individual homes on Monday.
RFA tried to contact the senior minister several times but were unable to speak with him.
Meanwhile, Am Sam Ath, an official from the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) welcomed the release of the eight Cambodian Muslims.
The representative of the local rights group urged Cambodian citizens, especially those of the Muslim faith, to be cautious about traveling to Thailand’s southern provinces.
He said travel to the region by Muslims was controversial due to ongoing conflicts with a separatist group, referring to the National Revolutionary Front (BRN), which has battled the Thai military for at least 15 years, demanding direct negotiations with Thailand’s junta in peace talks.
Since 2015, hardcore BRN leaders have stayed away from Malaysia-brokered talks between Bangkok and an umbrella body representing various rebel organizations in peace negotiations.
Nearly 7,000 people have died since the insurgency flared up again in 2004.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translation by RFA’s Khmer Service. Written in English by Eugene Whong.