Thai mayor arrested in connection with Rohingya trafficking case

Thai mayor arrested in connection with Rohingya trafficking case
Suspected Rohingya migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh rest at Rattaphum district hall in Thailand's southern Songkhla province May 9, 2015.

BANGKOK - Police have arrested the mayor of Padang Besar municipality in Songkhla province over his alleged involvement in human trafficking and started a probe into a close aide on suspicion that the latter was also involved.

Bannajong Pongphol, the mayor, faced seven hours of questioning before being taken to a press conference in Trang yesterday as authorities suspect he might have been linked to the discovery of many corpses in Kaew Mountain in Tambon Padang Besar.

His aide, Suphoj Muensew, was charged with attempted murder in relation to a raid on the chief of Trang prison in 2013.

National police chief General Somyot Poompanmoung yesterday said investigators were looking|into whether Bannajong and Suphoj had a hand in the death of the many migrants whose bodies were exhumed recently.

He said police would report to the government the names of a number of people allegedly involved in human trafficking whose positions meant they could not be touched by police.

Padang Besar deputy mayor, Prasit Lemleh, surrendered to police on Thursday. He has been detained at a court in Songkhla, after being questioned by police.

Deputy police chief General Aek Angsananont said arrest warrants had been issued for 36 people over their alleged roles in the trafficking of humans for labour, including 11 suspects whose warrants were issued yesterday and six suspects in custody.

Two operation centres dealing with the issue have been set up under the supervision of Provincial Police Regions 8 and 9, whose jurisdictions are in the upper and lower South.

Daily meetings and briefings will be held at these two centres, with details to be made public every day, said Maj-General Phutthichart Ekkachant, a deputy commissioner of Provincial Police Region 8.

Phutthichart said that so far four detention camps with 51 buildings in total had been found and 55 migrants were under government care - 24 Rohingya, 15 Bangladeshis and 16 others whose nationalities were yet to be determined.

He said the remains of 33 bodies had been found, with DNA verification for their identity ongoing.

He said border-patrol police were looking for 17 Rohingya who had gone missing in Khao Kaew, located between Songkhla and Satun, while part of a group of 50 who were apprehended while being brought to a destination in Satun by a Thai smuggler.

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