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After Crackdown Scare, Cambodian Workers Return to Thai Jobs

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, right, speaks as his Thai counterpart Sihasak Phuangketkeow listens during a press conference in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July 1, 2014.

Cambodian workers are returning to Thailand after a mass exodus in the past six weeks drove an estimated 200,000 to their home country, fearful of a rumored Thai government crackdown on workers.

In Phnom Penh, Cambodia Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told his visiting Thai counterpart at least 10,000 workers were requesting visas under new, streamlined procedures. Many of them have already returned to Thailand.

Thailand's Acting Foreign Minister Sihasak Phuangketkeow said Cambodians would be able to obtain work visas in one day, expedited by worker registration centers along the border. Cambodia last week announced lower fees for passports and other paperwork to enter Thailand.

Rumors that Thai authorities were abusing and arresting migrant workers last month spurred a massive departure of Cambodians. But the Thai government, which underwent a coup in late May, denied there was a forced expulsion.

The junta blames the panicked exodus on corrupt Thai officials spreading rumors to extract payoffs from the Cambodians.

Thai Army Chief of Staff General Sirichai Distakul called it a big cross-border misunderstanding.

“We have allowed some of them to return [without passports] because entrepreneurs will have trouble running their businesses if these workers are not here," Sirichai said.

During Tuesday's meeting, Hor Namhong also asked his Thai counterpart for the release of 14 Cambodian workers arrested last month for using illegal work papers.

An estimated 440,000 Cambodians were working in Thailand, according to government statistics.

(VOA Correspondent Steve Herman contributed to this report.)