BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s foreign ministry said on Monday that it was too soon to say if a group of about 200 people rescued by police from a human smuggling camp in southern Thailand were Uighurs from China’s restive far western region of Xinjiang.
Thai police sources told Reuters that the people were believed to be Uighurs, a Muslim people who speak a Turkic language, many of whom chafe at Chinese restrictions on their culture and religion.
“China and Thailand have unimpeded channels on law and order and security cooperation,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily news briefing.
“As of now the identity checks on the relevant people are still being carried out and it’s not reasonable to reach conclusions at present, (as this) lacks a factual basis.”
The U.S. State Department said last week that they welcomed reports of the rescue of the Uighurs.
Hong implied that such comments were unwarranted.
“We’ve noticed that some countries have made improper comments while the facts are unclear, which is highly irresponsible,” he said, without elaborating.
The latest trafficking victims brings the total number of people freed from human traffickers to well over 800 since Reuters exposed the whereabouts of the illegal camps in a December 5 investigation.
The raid is further evidence that human smugglers in southern Thailand - already a notorious trafficking hub for Rohingya boat people from Myanmar - are exploiting well-oiled networks to transport other nationalities in large numbers, despite an ongoing crackdown by Thai police.
Unrest in China’s Xinjiang has killed more than 100 people in the past year, prompting a crackdown by Chinese authorities.
In 2009, 20 Uighurs were deported from Cambodia to China despite the objections of the United Nations and human rights groups, who said they faced lengthy jail terms upon their return.
New York-based Human Rights Watch also criticized Malaysia for deporting six Uighurs to China last December.
At least 100 Uighur men, women and children are being held at an immigration detention center in Bangkok, part of a small but growing number arrested for illegally entering Thailand, most likely overland through Laos from southwest China.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore