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Thailand, Cambodia agree to quash 'rumours' after worker exodus

Update: June, 18/2014 - 10:00

BANGKOK — Thai and Cambodian officials have agreed to quash "rumours" of a crackdown by Thailand's new junta on illegal migrant workers after more than 185,000 Cambodians fled home.

The exodus has caused consternation in Cambodia with one senior politician accusing the Thai military of being directly responsible for the deaths of eight Cambodians who he said on Tuesday were killed in accidents as they fled home.

The migrants – who help keep major Thai industries afloat but often lack official work permits – have streamed across the border since Thailand's military regime warned last week that illegal foreign workers face arrest and deportation.

The junta has since insisted there is no crackdown and blamed false rumours for the exodus of what could be, by some estimates, the entire undocumented Cambodian population in Thailand.

"We need to work closely together to allay fear among the Cambodian labourers in Thailand," said Cambodian ambassador Eat Sophea on Tuesday, adding it was not the policy of the Thai administration "to crack down on labourers regardless of their (legal) status."

After talks in Bangkok with the Thai foreign ministry permanent secretary Sihasak Phuangketkeow, she also dismissed rumours of the shooting and abuse of Cambodian migrants by Thai authorities – among the factors believed to be triggering the exodus.

"The reports about shootings, the reports about other abuses are rumours and are not true, it's been taken out of context. We agreed to work together in order to clarify any issues," Eat said.

The two countries also agreed to launch a hotline on labour issues.

"We agreed to set up some form of a hotline... to communicate requests for clarification for assistance to facilitate those labourers who wish to return to Cambodia," the ambassador said.

At the main border crossing in Poipet – a bustling town home to several large businesses, casinos and hotels – around 9,000 Cambodian migrants arrived in Thai military trucks and police cars on Tuesday.

The total number of Cambodians returning from Thailand via Poipet and smaller border crossings has now reached 188,000, said Kor Sam Saroeut, governor of the northwestern province of Banteay Meanchey where the main checkpoint is based.

Bun Veasna – who was employed as a construction and seafood worker in Chonburi province southeast of Bangkok – was escorted into Poipet by Thai police along with his brother on Tuesday. — AFP

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