Uighur escape pressures cops

national November 21, 2017 01:00

By SOMCHAI SAMART,
SURIYA PATATAYO
THE NATION

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Six officers transferred following dramatic break-out of 20 detainees from Songkhla immigration facility.



AN URGENT order was issued yesterday to transfer six senior Immigration police in Songkhla province following the dramatic escape of 20 Uighurs from a border detention centre.

The six officers, including a commander and his deputies, will also face an investigation as to whether they failed in their duties that led to the 3am escape yesterday. They were immediately transferred to their regional headquarters.

Officials inspect a hole in the wall of the building used to detain Uighurs at the Songkhla Immigration Office |yesterday. Twenty Uighurs escaped through the hole, climbing down a blanket that became tangled in barbed wire.

 The Uighurs made a hole in their cell wall and tied blankets together as a rope to climb down and get away, while five of their elderly fellow detainees were left behind.

Meanwhile, a senior Muslim expert said the escape of the group from the border detention centre in Sadao district yesterday would bode well for both Thailand and the escapees. 

 Wisut bin Lateh, director of the Southern Coordination Centre’s Chularajamontri office, said the escape would certainly help Thailand avoid Chinese pressure to deport the Uighurs back to the country, from which they previously had escaped.

The escapees, meanwhile, could have the chance to reunite with their families that are living in a third country, Witsut said.

Thailand is a key destination for ethnic Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority originating in western China’s Xinjiang province. The Chinese government has blamed much of the unrest in its Xinjiang province on the ethnic group while it routinely denies repressing them.

Hundreds of Uighurs have sneaked out of Xinjiang to Southeast Asia in an attempt to reach Turkey, which hosts a large Uighur population.

Thailand has had a dilemma about whether it should free the Uighurs, following Bejing’s demands that they be deported to China.

The fleeing 20 Uighurs were part of the remaining group out of more than 300 who were arrested and detained in Thailand in 2014.

About 109 of them were deported to China under pressure from the Chinese government in July 2015, an incident that sparked international condemnation of Thailand amid concerns that they could face torture at the hands of Chinese authorities. 

Thailand had argued that China claimed the Uighurs were militants but sent others to Turkey after finding that they did not have links to militant groups.

Earlier, relatives of the detained Uighurs called on the Thai government to allow them to travel to Turkey, saying they were not victims of human trafficking but were fleeing repression in China to join their families.

Wisut said the Uighur men had escaped to join their wives and children.

The Muslim community in Thailand, he said, had been calling on the Thai government to not repatriate the Uighurs to China, but instead to allow them to move to third countries, especially Turkey.

The Uighurs had been kept in small detention rooms for years and should be allowed to be resettled elsewhere on humanitarian grounds, he said.

Police deputy commissioner-general Pol General Srivara Ransibrahmanakul earlier set up a committee to investigate police officers at the Sadao district immigration office in Songkhla 

 following the escape of the 20 Uighur inmates.

Srivara said the officers in charge of the detention centre had to face an investigation amid suspicions they had been derelict in their duty.

Srivara said he had been informed that the Uighurs used equipment found in the detention room to break a hole in the wall.

He said he had instructed the Immigration Bureau to coordinate with Provincial Police Bureau 9 to try to hunt down the escapees.

Checkpoints would be set up in the manhunt, he said.

Meanwhile, Immigration police commissioner Pol Lt-General Suthipong Wongpin said security had been tightened at detention centres holding other Uighurs to prevent another escape.

Suthipong added that he had received reports that the 20 fugitives had escaped to forests along the border with Malaysia.

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