Rights activists scoff at 'Uygur terrorist' claims over group of 410 held in Thailand
410 suspects held in Thailand include children and pregnant women, says Human Rights Watch
Claims that a group of suspected Chinese Uygurs in Thailand wanted to be trained as terrorists have been ridiculed by a prominent human rights organisation.
Most of those in the group of 410 people, whose nationalities have not been confirmed, were arrested in Thailand this month.
A report in the Bangkok Post yesterday said police suspected the group was using Thailand as a transit point "to travel on to Turkey where they allegedly would be trained for terrorist plots".
The newspaper said the claim was made by an unidentified Thai police source, who in turn said the information had been provided by Chinese police.
But Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director for Human Rights Watch, said: "The groups are composed of significant numbers of small children and more than a few pregnant women. So one wonders how these unnamed police sources have somehow jumped to a conclusion these people are terrorists."
Investigations and discussions are now taking place involving Thailand, Turkey and China about the status of the families and what will happen to them in the future.
Caucasian in appearance, the families are claiming Turkish ethnicity. Some say they are seeking to migrate to Australia. Other say Turkey is their destination.
Turkish officials have sent some of the group's documents to Turkey for assessment. "It's a humanitarian issue," one of the Turkish envoys said earlier.
But there is also a suspicion that many are Muslim Uygurs, fleeing Xinjiang province.
Robertson said: "I suspect that such 'terrorist' accusations are a prelude to some Thai government officials trying to force these groups back to China in what would be a clear violation of international law. It is time for the UN Refugee Agency and the international community to tell Bangkok that such an outcome would be totally unacceptable."
Thai officials have previously used the threat of terrorism to warn against incursions from the Rohingya boatpeople, an impoverished Muslim minority persecuted in Myanmar.
No connection between the Rohingya and terrorist activities were ever found.
Robertson said of the latest arrivals: "It seems pretty clear the Thai officials have some ulterior motives in trying to tar this entire group with the 'terrorist' label.
"In fact, such allegations sound surprisingly like those regularly made by Chinese government security officials, whose motives are hardly pure since they are precisely the ones responsible for the abuses that the Uygurs are fleeing from in their Xinjiang homeland."
The 115 men in the group are being held by Thai immigration officials near the Thai-Malaysia border in Pedang Besar and Sadao. The 295 women and children are being held in a family shelter in Songkhla province and at the central Immigration Detention Centre in Bangkok.