Eight out of 11 Cambodian students detained over suspected links to a militant insurgent group in Thailand’s Pattani province have been deported .
Last month, Thai soldiers from the Internal Security Operations Command Region 4 detained them following a raid on Pondok Al-Falah Pattani, a religious boarding school, in the province’s Ma-Yor district.
Othsman Hassan, senior minister and president of the Muslim Development Foundation, yesterday said the eight were deported on Sunday evening.
Nine of the students were living in Thailand with expired passports and one had no identification, The Nation reported last week.
“We intervened to bring them back to Cambodia. Eight of them are already back in their home village as of [Sunday] evening,” Mr Othsman said. “As for the three others, we are following procedure – they are still detained in Thailand’s southern province.”
Mr Othsman said most of the deportees hailed from Tboung Khmum province and are now back home in their respective communes.
When asked about the operation conducted by Thai authorities to arrest the students, Mr Othsman said “it’s their own affair”.
He noted that Cambodian authorities are now helping the three other students return home.
According to a BenarNews report last week, 18 Cambodians, including 15 men and three boys, were detained following raids conducted at two religious boarding schools in Pattani, including Pondok Al-Falah.
It said that the raids were conducted over suspicions that the students were linked to local militant group National Revolutionary Front.
“Whether they have links with the group or not, it’s not known. That needs in-depth investigation,” ISOC-R4 spokesman Colonel Pramote Prom-in said in the report.
Fourteen of them were held at the Pattani Prison for allegedly entering the country without proper documents or overstaying their visas, the report said, noting that three minors were detained at a local half-way home, while a man who had valid documents was sent to immigration police.
“During interrogation, they did not show any signs which could lead us to believe that they supported insurgents. They came to learn and hoped to have leadership skills when they go back home,” provincial police chief Major General Piyawat Chalermsri said, referring to the students in the two groups.
Last week, government spokesman Phay Siphan said Cambodian authorities will not interfere in Thai investigations.
Mr Siphan said Cambodia also does not support citizens who join rebel groups or conduct militant activities in other countries.
“It could be purely an internal action and Cambodia is absolutely against interfering in other countries’ affairs,” he said.
According to a report by The Nation, former Asean secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan said Pattani serves as the cradle for Islamic studies for many students from Asean countries.