BANGKOK - Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday gave a 10-day deadline for a complete scrutiny of all areas for possible detention camps and graves related to trafficked migrants.
Local authorities would look for existing crimes or related illegal activities, said Deputy Government Spokesman Maj-General Sansern Kaewkamnerd.
The scans would be carried out through normal procedures but if problems or delays were encountered, Article 44 of the provisional constitution would be invoked to clear any obstacles, he said, without giving details on how the measures would be adopted under the article.
The Interior Ministry's Provincial Administration Department would gather information from local agencies during the 10-day scan before holding meetings to pass on instructions from the government on how to tackle the problems that had arisen.
"If government officials are found involved and local agencies are powerless to deal with them, report the findings to the department director-general and the government will step in to deal with the problems," he said.
Local officials from village heads to district chiefs would not only search for signs of Rohingya trafficking, such as detention camps and graves, but also other crimes ranging from land encroachment and illegal or unregulated fishing to the drug trade.
The discovery of detention camps and graveyards in the South used by smugglers to detain or bury Rohingya migrants raises concerns that Thailand would run afoul of US and EU protocols against human trafficking and abuse of fishermen. Sarnsern said Thailand was doing its best to tackle all these problems and it was up to the US to decide what action it wanted to take against Thailand next month.
Pol Lt-General Chakthip Chaijinda, deputy national police chief, said he would discuss the a trafficking issue with his Malaysian counterparts during a border meeting today.
A local police commander was assigned to coordinate with Myanmar, from where the Rohingya come, while he was in talks with Malaysia. Both countries are offering good co-operation, he added.
An operations centre to tackle migrants trafficking, set up in Songkhla's Hat Yai district, would bring together officials from various agencies, he said.
The southern provinces of Ranong, Phang Nga and Satun, as well as parts of Songkhla, have been used by traffickers, but closely coordinated efforts through this new centre were expected to bring good results, he said.
Army spokesman Colonel Winthai Suvari said the Army would not protect a major accused of being part of a smuggling syndicate that detained Rohingya and demanded ransoms for their release from their families.
Questioning of a group of four military officers was underway after villagers filed a police complaint accusing them of holding some Rohingya people for money.
The four officers had been assigned to investigate trafficking in the Padang Besar border town of Songkhla.
In Sadao district of that province, eight graves in an abandoned Islamic cemetery were excavated yesterday.
Six skeletal remains, including four of women, were found. The post-mortem is expected to identify who the dead are, or whether they are trafficked migrant workers.
Local police quoted villagers as saying all six were not local residents. An imam, Abdulloh Jaidee, said what was suspicious about the six bodies was that stretchers were found nearby.
An interpreter based in Nakhon Si Thammarat said he was feeling pressure after television reports recently cited his role as a police witness. Sofie Muhammad said he was only a certified interpreter who assisted police in their questioning of Rohingya and witnesses.
A relative of a murdered ransom victim had to be put under police protection after he came out with details about Rohingya trafficking, he said.