Five people, including three presumed ethnic Uighurs from China, were arrested on Sunday after a retired Thai police officer drove them illegally across the Cambodian border, Thai media reported yesterday.
The retired officer was stopped after waiting patrols spotted his pickup truck speeding away from the border in Thailand’s Sa Kaeo province. Police claimed to have received a tip that the five foreigners, who had been hiding in Poipet, were going to be smuggled across the border. Two Bangladeshi passengers with passports but no visas and three suspected Uighurs without documents were questioned and detained.
Representatives at the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh and Cambodian government officials said they had no information about the arrests.
Hundreds of ethnic minority Muslim Uighurs have reportedly crossed into Cambodia this year alone as they flee violence and persecution in China’s restive northwest Xinjiang province. Despite evidence of well-oiled human smuggling networks that transit fleeing Uighurs from China in a route through Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia and then onwards to Turkey or other destinations, Cambodian officials have repeatedly denied allegations that the Kingdom serves as a point of transit for the asylum seekers.
“It is completely impossible; we have had no foreign national [Uighurs] hiding inside Cambodian territory,” said So Channary, commander of the 911 border police unit in Banteay Meanchey.
In March, 15 Uighurs were arrested in Sa Kaeo hours after they were deported to Thailand with help from Cambodian authorities, according to Human Rights Watch. In July, Indonesian media reported that four “extremist” Uighurs in the country had first travelled through Cambodia to Thailand, where they obtained fake passports.
Cambodia also repatriated 20 Uighurs to China in 2009, where many reportedly met with long prison sentences.
“Those people were illegal,” government spokesman Phay Siphan said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY BANGKOK POST