Fourteen Cambodian migrant workers jailed in Thailand for travelling with false visas will be freed and sent home today, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
After a brief hearing yesterday, the Sa Kaeo Provincial Court in Thailand agreed to drop all charges against the workers, who were arrested while trying to flee junta-led Thailand during a mass exodus that saw more than 250,000 Cambodian workers return home.
Initially, the group arrested last month contained just 13 workers. But a few days later, another woman was caught with a similarly unofficial visa, according to Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong.
“They were all victims; it was not their fault,” said Kuong, who has maintained that the workers were duped by a broker and unaware of any wrongdoing.
“We don’t know if it was the same broker who tricked them, or different brokers doing the same thing,” he said. “It is the duty of Thailand to investigate, though the consulate general in Sa Kaeo has asked them to look into the brokers so it does not happen to someone else.”
Kuong would not reveal the names of the workers yesterday but told the Post that 10 are women and four are men, all aged between 18 and 32. They are originally from Pursat, Battambang and Siem Reap.
Pich Vanna, chief of the Border Relations Office, said the workers would be released imminently, though he was unable to provide a specific time, or clarify where they would stay until they were sent back through the border checkpoint at Poipet today.
A separate group of 23 workers – 12 men, 9 women and two girls – was arrested on Wednesday by Thailand's Bura-pha Task Force while being driven by a broker to construction sites in Thailand, police sources told the Bangkok Post, which later reported they had been returned to Cambodia.
The homecoming of the 14 workers rounds out mutual return agreements arranged during a Thai delegation’s two-day visit to Cambodia, during which imprisoned “yellow shirt” leader Veera Somkwamkid received a royal pardon.
Veera, who served three years of his eight-year sentence for espionage, returned home on Wednesday. Just hours later, Thailand’s Justice Ministry announced that it would be freeing the 14 Cambodian workers.
Both Thai and Cambodian authorities have vociferously denied the moves represent any sort of deal or arrangement made during the Thai delegation’s first official visit to Cambodia since the May 22 coup.
“I would like to correct some of the TV and radio broadcasts that have called the release of Veera an exchange [of prisoners]. It’s not an exchange. The Thai government also, correctly, states the same,” Prime Minister Hun Sen said at a speech in the capital yesterday.
“Regarding the 14 workers, I asked whether or not they agreed to release them, and it is Thailand's right to decide. Here, we let [Veera] go back without any conditions. Therefore, media reports sometimes are annoying,” Hun Sen added.