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Heads roll in Thailand over human trafficking

/ 01:19 PM September 23, 2015

A drive against human trafficking has brought severe retribution on government officials as the authorities recently slapped 32 police officers with transfer orders for their alleged roles in the trade, said national police chief Pol General Somyot Poompanmuang.

The transferred officials belong to police region 8th, 9th, Immigration Bureau and Central Investigation Bureau, he said.

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“The transfer [of the officers] has been done under police jurisdiction in accordance with recommendations from their concerned agencies,” he said.

The move is reportedly based on the ongoing investigation led by Deputy National Police Chief Pol General Aek Angsananont, which started in earnest after authorities discovered mass graves of Rohingyas at alleged trafficking camps in southern Thailand and Malaysia earlier this year.

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The discoveries attracted glaring media attention and concern from around the world.

An international outcry led the government to crack down on people-smuggling networks, sparking a humanitarian crisis with thousands of migrants being stranded in boats off Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. The Rohingya Muslims said they suffered discrimination in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, which considers them illegal Bengali immigrants, and not among the country’s official ethnic groups.

Authorities have since launched a serious crackdown on human traffickers.

On Sunday, the Na Thawi Provincial Court approved arrest warrants for four more military officers over the trafficking of Rohingyas.

They are Colonel Nattasit Maksuwan, Captain Wisoot Bunnag, Captain Santad Petchnoi and Commander Kampanart Sangthongjeen. The first three work for the Internal Security Operations Command’s branches in the South, while the other belongs to the 3rd Naval Area Command.

Provincial Police Region 8 deputy commissioner Pol Maj General Paveen Pongsirin yesterday said police had already informed their agencies of the arrest warrants.

“Their supervisors will hand them over. Or they may come forward to surrender themselves,” he said.

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To date, as many as 150 arrest warrants have been issued for alleged accomplices. Of them, 89 have already been nabbed. They include Lt General Manas Kongpan, a former specialist in the Royal Thai Army, Banjong Pongphon, a former major of Padang Besar, and Pajjuban Angchotiphan, a former chief administrator of Satun Provincial Administrative Organisation.

“Sixty-one others remain on the run,” a source said, adding that about 20 had fled overseas.

National Police Chief Pol General Somyot yesterday said if the investigation implicated any more officials, more arrest warrants would be issued.

Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said he believed the human-trafficking network had many more accomplices.

Paveen said the Supreme Court president would announce on October 10 as to whether human-trafficking cases under the supervision of the Padang Besar Police Station would be transferred to the newly-established Human Trafficking Case Division of the Criminal Court.

“It is believed that the transfer may speed up the trial process,” Paveen said.

Human Trafficking became a controversial issue in Thailand when the dealing in humanity, notably Rohingya ethnics, brought international concern down on Thailand. The Kingdom was graded at the lowest level of Tier 3 in the United States Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report this year.

The government stepped up measures to improve practices dealing with the issue as well as to update the US occasionally – in a bid to lift Thailand’s status in its report next year.

The Foreign Ministry’s Director General of Department of American and South Pacific Affairs, Songsak Saicheua, said during a seminar on trafficking yesterday that Thailand might not be sanctioned by the US over the downgraded status.

Thai officials at the Foreign Ministry held a video conference meeting with US officials at the TIP office last Thursday to update the situation and measures enforced by the Thai side, he said.

The US president might decide whether to impose the sanctions on Thailand by the third week of October. “We expect that Thailand would not be sanctioned on the matter,” Songsak said. “The sanctions, if any, would affect directly trade and economic cooperation between the two countries.”

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TAGS: Asia, Human trafficking, Myanmar, Rohingya Muslims, Thailand
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