Group seeks asylum in M'sia,alleging harassment by Army
The crisis that continues to plague the south of Thailand has forced a group of 20 Muslims to seek political asylum in Malaysia, Malaysia's official news agency said yesterday.
The group of nine men and 11 women aged between two and 55, from five families in Narathiwat, entered Malaysia via several illegal river crossings on Thursday night, seeking protection from what they claimed was "military pressure".
The state-run news agency Bernama reported the group's reason for entering Malaysia was almost the same as that given by the 131 Thai Muslims who had crossed into the country in August last year.
A spokesman for the group, who declined to give his name, claimed they were continuously harassed by the Army.
"Their actions are tormenting the villagers who have been hoping for a better life after a new government was formed recently," he told Bernama, when met on the banks of Sungai Golok River on Thursday.
He said the villagers had expected the situation in the southern provinces to improve with the new administration but things were worse than ever.
In the last month, the Army always entered their village at night, looking for suspects. "The army just walked into our homes and arrested whoever they suspected as terrorists without checking. They took several members of my family and we do not know where they are now." He claimed the Army under the new government was more aggressive.
He decided to come to Malaysia for a safer, better life for his family.
A housewife, only known as Yah, 47, said her husband was arrested by the Army about a month ago and she had not heard from him since.
Army spokesman Akra Thiproj admitted the group had sought refuge in Malaysia out of fear for their lives - but the threat was from militants, not government forces.
Security officials recently launched a fierce operation, including raids on several villages in Narathiwat, to hunt for suspected militants that might be scaring the villagers. "But the operation was aimed at getting rid of trouble makers and to provide protection, not threaten local people," Akra said.
However, a high-ranking intelligence source denied the claim by the Muslim villagers. He said militants simply made up the story of Muslims fleeing to discredit the government.
The group has only crossed the border to Malaysia to meet Bermana journalists and claimed they were worried about their safety after the army intensified a crack down on militants in Narathiwat, he said. They then returned to Sungai Kolok after the interview.
Malaysian authorities contacted by the Foreign Ministry denied they had received any Thai Muslims.