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International Concern Mounts as Arrested Families Stay Silent in Thailand

Friday, March 14, 2014
UPDATING All Day, Every Day

THE standoff came to an end late this afternoon with talks between the group and Turkish envoy Ahmet Idem Akay. He and other Turkish officials are to interview the group over the next two days to assess their background and status.

Original Report

HAD YAI: Three nations were seeking to resolve the future of a mysterious silent group of illegal immigrants discovered in Thailand on Wednesday who still decline to say where they come from.

It's suspected that they are Uyghur from China, where the Muslim minority sometimes faces persecution. Brief conversations have been held in Turkish, which some Uyghurs are known to speak.

The children and women were ordered by the men to maintain their silence and keep their heads low as they sat in the car park at the Immigration Headquarters in the southern city of Had Yai today.

Thailand's Deputy PM Pongthep Thepkanchana visiting, the Chinese consul-general deeply involved and a senior Turkish official is due in Had Yai this evening.

A senior Chinese official based in Thailand said that if the people were found to be Uyghur, the Thai Government should ''deport them according to Thai law.''

A large proportion of the group are women and young children. By the official count, there are 67 men, 60 women - two are pregnant - and 86 children.

''What needs to be explained is how they got to Thailand,'' the Chinese official said said. He preferred to remain anonymous. ''We need to know whether they came as one group or in smaller groups, and how they came to be here.''

There had been no opportunity to check the group or erch their luggage, he said. But he said they certainly appeared ''similar to Uyghur.''

With the group discovered in a rubber plantation in a distrtrict where secret traffickers' camps for Rohingya are quite common, questions are likely to be asked about the effectiveness of military border patrols on land and sea.

Children among the group were sleeping on the rough surface of the road under a car park tin roof shelter this afternoon as many in the group appeared exhausted from their stand-off.

Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister, Pongthep Thepkanchana, paid a surprise visit to the group this afternoon, with a senior Turkish official expected later today.

Once it is revealed where they are from, the adults are likely to be charged with being illegal immigrants and then deported when their penalty jail time is served.

The Governor of Songkhla, Kritsada Boonrat, admitted today that the province was troubled by traffickers and added that it was unfortunate the penalties for trafficking were relatively low.

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