Thailand hunts human trafficking suspects

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BANGKOK: Thai police said Thursday they have issued 10 arrest warrants against people suspected of human trafficking, as part of a blitz on camps used by people-smugglers sparked by the discovery of dozens of migrant remains.

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National police chief Somyot Poompanmoung said officers were working to clear all camps within 10 days following an order by the prime minister, but did not provide details of how many sites he believes are located across southern Thailand.

“I will not allow these kind of camps to exist in Thailand,” he told reporters in Bangkok.

Authorities have been at pains to show the country is serious about tackling people-smuggling after years of accusations that they turn a blind eye to—and are even complicit in—the trade.

More than 50 police officers, including senior officials, have been transferred from their posts since 26 bodies were exhumed from a mass grave over the weekend, near the town of Padang Besar in southern Songkhla province.

A further six bodies were found Wednesday near the same remote, jungle hillside which is a few hundred yards from the Malaysia border.

All are believed to be from Myanmar or Bangladesh.

“The court issued more arrest warrants against 10 people suspected of human trafficking,” national deputy police chief Aek Angsananont told AFP Thursday.

He did not elaborate on who the warrants were for but police have arrested several officials in Padang Besar in connection with the macabre mass grave discovery.

Rights groups say people traffickers are likely to switch tactics as the crackdown bites, taking large groups of migrants to Malaysia or abandoning their camps.

In Songkhla’s Rattaphum district police said nine Bangladeshi men were arrested for illegal entry after they were found wandering through a village late Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a Thai rights group said dozens of suspected Rohingya were found in two southern provinces Thursday.

“54 people believed to be Rohingya from Myanmar were found in Satun province this morning,” said Siwawong Suktawee, coordinator of the Migrants Working Group, adding around half were found near the shore and the rest on a highway.

Another five suspected Rohingya thought to have escaped from a trafficking camp were found in Pedang Besar district, said Siwawong.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have braved the dangerous sea crossing to southern Thailand in recent years, with many headed for Malaysia and beyond.

Many die at sea. But of those that make it, large numbers end up in remote camps across southern Thailand where investigators believe traffickers demand up to $3,000 from relatives and friends for their release.

Others are sold on to Malaysia, according to activists working to expose the trade.

The exodus of Rohingya—described by the UN as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities—has followed deadly communal unrest which broke out in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state in 2012.

Rohingya living in Bangladesh, as well as Bangladeshis, have also been trafficked to Thailand, after being duped with fake job offers or even drugged.

Last year the US relegated the kingdom to the bottom of its list of countries failing to tackle modern-day slavery.

AFP

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