Thai cops 'in cahoots with traffickers' (The Straits Times)


Dozens of officers punished amid crackdown on human trafficking

BANGKOK – The Thai authorities have begun a crackdown on human trafficking, with more than 50 police officers punished over suspected links to trafficking networks and more arrest warrants issued against suspected people smugglers.

The moves followed an order by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha for a probe into the trafficking camps discovered near the Malaysian border.

More than 30 bodies, believed to be migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh, have been found in shallow graves during the past week in the southern province of Songkhla. Police unearthed 30 new graves yesterday morning, according to the Bangkok Post.

Some of the bodies were found at a suspected trafficking camp hidden deep in the jungle.

National police chief Somyot Poompanmoung said officers were working to clear all camps within 10 days following the order by the Prime Minister, but did not provide details on 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.

He also disclosed that more than 50 police officers, including senior officials, have been transferred because of the issue.

“In the past there were no sincere efforts to solve this problem. This is only something that has happened recently,” he said ahead of a meeting in Bangkok to discuss efforts to crack down on the illicit trade.

Separately, national deputy police chief Aek Angsananont said that arrest warrants had been issued for 10 people in connection with people smuggling.

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

Mr Sunai Phasuk of Human Rights Watch said the crackdown was the “first effort by the Thai government to leave no stone unturned”, and he called for an investigation of military personnel suspected of involvement in human trafficking.

He said: “We see local politicians and police being investigated and named, but what about military personnel? What about officials from forestry departments who have long been alleged to have provided support to human traffickers?”

Thousands of illegal migrants, including Rohingya Muslims from western Myanmar and Bangladesh, brave dangerous journeys by sea and land to escape religious and ethnic persecution and in search of work abroad.

They are often trafficked through Thailand, a predominantly Buddhist country, and taken into the country’s jungles, where traffickers demand ransoms to release them or smuggle them across the border to mainly Muslim Malaysia.

The anti-trafficking group Freeland said this week that a recent investigation by police and NGOs revealed that traffickers were demanding about US$3,000 (S$3,970) per migrant from families, or selling them on to Malaysian farmers for US$1,000 each.

Rights groups say traffickers are now likely to switch tactics as the crackdown bites.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE