Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Monitoring of Cambodian Muslims called into question

Monitoring of Cambodian Muslims called into question

Monitoring of Cambodian Muslims called into question

120822_03a

Sor Leash, 20, sweeps up at the Al-Azhar mosque in Phnom Penh yesterday. The Thai government is allegedly trying to keep tabs on Cambodian Muslims travelling to Thailand. Photograph: Hong Menea/Phnom Penh Post

Officials from Cambodian immigration, law enforcement and diplomatic circles were either unaware of, or unwilling to talk yesterday about, an alleged request from the Thai government to help monitor Cambodian Muslims crossing into the country.

“That is a Thai problem,” said Pin Piseth, head of immigration at the Ministry of Interior, declining to elaborate.

He would not confirm or deny that the government was aiding its neighbour in keeping an eye on Muslims travelling in the days following the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

News of the alleged monitoring surfaced on Monday when Thai Deputy Prime Minister Yutthasak Sasiprapa told the Bangkok Post that thousands of Cambodian Muslims were entering Thailand as “tourists” every day, and that the Immigration Bureau was given instructions to keep tabs on their movements.

He also said that Cambodian authorities would be asked to co-operate. But the Cambodian ambassador to Thailand, You Ay, said she had not received any such requests.

“I don’t know anything, it was a publication in Thai media,” she said.

It’s unclear how the Thais would be able to accurately identify Cambodian Muslims apart from their dress. They account for just a fraction of a predominantly Buddhist population, religious affiliation is not listed on Cambodian passports, and hundreds of thousands of Cambodians travel to Thailand throughout the year.

Khieu Kanharith, the Cambodian Minister of Information, said it’s a matter of religious profiling.

“The Thai government is always speculating about Khmer Muslims who cross into Thailand when there is problem in the south – it is usual,” he said.

Over the past eight years, the south has been a hotspot of brutal violence as insurgents waged a deadly campaign against the government to seek an independent Muslim state.

But Koy Kuong, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Cambodian Muslims who cross into Thailand are seeking work, not warfare.

“They don’t have any ill-will purpose. It is speculation on pleasant people,” he said. “When they enter, it is [the Thai] authorities’ duty in checking with them while they stay in Thailand.”

Numerous attempts to reach the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs were unsuccessful.

Members of Muslim communities in Phnom Penh yesterday voiced concern about the perceived targeting of Cambodians who share the Islamic faith.

Chi Ya, 58, in the Chroy Changva village of Russey Keo district, said he was worried about neighbours who go through Thailand to visit family members in Malaysia. If they get arrested based on stereotypes, “that would be bad”.

Haji Yusef, imam of the Al-Azhar mosque in Russey Keo, read about the alleged Thai policy online, but rejected the idea that a fundamentalist strain of Islam existed in Cambodia.

“We have a good network of Khmer Muslims in Cambodia, and if a member of us is suspected to have connections with bad Muslims from outside, we would detain them immediately and hand them over to the government.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Vong Sokheng at [email protected]
Joseph Freeman at [email protected]
With assistance from Cheang Sokha

MOST VIEWED

  • Negotiations on EBA being held

    In an effort to defuse tensions, a senior government official said Cambodia is negotiating with the European Union (EU) on the Everything But Arms (EBA) trade deal, which allows the Kingdom to export goods to the 28-member bloc tariff-free. The EU notified Cambodia on October 5

  • Ministers to tackle sea pollutants

    Preah Sihanouk provincial authorities and members of local communities have collected 77 tonnes of water hyacinth at a Sihanoukville beach, Preah Sihanouk Provincial Hall spokesperson Or Saroeun said. He told The Post yesterday that the aquatic weeds had been floating along some of the province’s

  • Chinese police escort deported scam suspects

    Ninety-one Chinese nationals accused of extorting money from victims in a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) scam were deported from Phnom Penh International Airport on Monday under the escort of 182 Chinese police personnel. General Department of Immigration head of investigations Ouk Hay Seila told reporters

  • Sam Rainsy, government group set to clash at IPU Geneva meet?

    Opposition figure Sam Rainsy has been invited to speak at the General Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) in Geneva, according to a former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) lawmaker. A government delegation is also set to attend the meeting, a National Assembly press release