Thai police wrap up human trafficking probe

24 June 2015
Thai police wrap up human trafficking probe
Thai Senior Army Advisor Lieutenant General Manas Kongpan (C), who is allegedly involved in human trafficking of Rohingya migrants, is escorted by police officers as he turns himself in at the Royal Thai Police headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand, 03 June 2015. Photo: Rungroj Yongrit/EPA

Thailand's crackdown on people smuggling and trafficking networks has successfully dismantled the grim trade, police announced Tuesday while admitting that dozens of suspects have yet to be apprehended.
"The case will be submitted to the Office of the Attorney General this afternoon for consideration of indictment," Deputy National Police Chief Aek Angsananont, the officer in charge of the probe, told reporters.
"We have worked carefully and we have confidence in the evidence. We can confirm that the smuggling rings have been stopped," he added.
Aek said a total of 120 arrest warrants had now been issued since a crackdown was launched in early May -- 30 of which were approved by a court in the country's south on Monday. 
So far 56 people have been detained, leaving 64 either on the run or unaccounted for.
Among those arrested include Lieutenant General Manas Kongpan, a senior military officer charged with being a major smuggling kingpin in the lucrative trade.
His detention raises awkward questions for junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who has repeatedly justified his coup last year as a much-needed antidote to graft that he says had flourished under a series of elected civilian governments.
Manas was promoted while Prayut was army chief. He remains the only military officer charged with complicity in people smuggling, something that has raised eyebrows among human rights groups and observers who say it is unlikely such an influential officer would have acted alone.
Aek declined to say whether any army officers or government officials were among the 30 new arrest warrants. 
He said four foreigners were being sought but declined to detail their nationality.
Southern Thailand has long been known as a nexus for lucrative and largely unchecked smuggling networks through which persecuted Rohingya Muslims in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, and Bangladeshi economic migrants, amongst others, would pass on their way to Malaysia.
Rights groups have long accused Thai officials of both turning a blind eye to the trade -- and even complicity in it.
The extent of the network -- and the brutality of gangmasters who ran it -- was laid bare last month when a Thai crackdown led to the discovery of scores of jungle prison camps on both sides of the Thailand-Malaysia border that were run by smuggling gangs. 
So far more than 150 graves have been uncovered in the camps where many victims were held for months in miserable conditions until relatives paid hefty ransoms for the release of their loved ones.