20 more face arrest over trafficking

20 more face arrest over trafficking

POLICE will seek warrants to arrest another 20 people suspected of being involved in the trafficking of migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh, a senior officer said yesterday.

Deputy national police chief General Aek Angsananont, who is in charge of the Royal Thai Police's Centre Against Human Traffick-|ing, said police were seeking court permission to arrest 20 suspects - |in addition to warrants for 29 |other suspects issued earlier, he |said.

Suspect Somyos Angchotphan, a tourism-related businessman on Lipe Island in Satun, surrendered yesterday to Aek. He denied any involvement with human trafficking.

So far 11 suspects have surrendered or been arrested in connection to the case.

More than 200 police and military yesterday searched the home of Padang Besar mayor Banjong Pongpol, a suspect in the case from Songkhla, as well as four other locations. A number of documents were confiscated.

Authorities yesterday questioned 117 migrants discovered in the South to see if they were victims of human trafficking.

Thailand is racing to meet a deadline to uncover people smuggling camps within its borders.

Some 33 bodies, believed to be migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh, were found in shallow graves in Songkhla this month. Three suspected trafficking camps were also found.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha announced a 10-day deadline to crack down the illicit trade. On Friday, Prayut called for a three-way meeting with neighbours Malaysia and Myanmar to try to end the regional trafficking crisis.

The 117 migrants were found in Songkhla's Rattaphum district, near the Malaysian border, the province's deputy governor Ekarat Sisen said. Most are from Bangladesh.

"There are 117 people here, 26 of them are Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar and the rest are from Bangladesh," Ekarat said.

"We need to figure out if any of these people are trafficking victims or whether they entered country on their own. If they are victims of human trafficking we must hand them over to Ministry of Social Development and Human Security. Those who voluntarily entered the country illegally will be sent to Immigration Police and eventually sent back to their country of origin."

Huddled in a meeting room in Rattaphum, the 117 migrants, including three children, brushed their teeth, slept, prayed and ate while waiting to be interviewed, according to a Reuters reporter at the scene.

Some villagers came to donate water, rice and fruit to the migrants.

Thirteen-year-old Busri Salam from Bangladesh said his group disembarked a boat in Thailand and trekked for two weeks in the jungle to try and reach Malaysia. "My brother is in Malaysia. I wanted to go there," he said.

An estimated 25,000 Rohingya Muslims and Bangladeshis boarded people smugglers' boats in the first three months of the year, double the number a year earlier, the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said on Friday.

The migrants brave perilous journeys to escape religious and ethnic persecution and poverty.

A Malaysian representative from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation will fly to Thailand tomorrow to observe the investigation into the human trafficking case, according to Visut Billatay, a senior official from the Sheikhul Islam Office.

Separately, regional police official Maj-General Puthichart Ekachant said: "So far there have been 199 victims found in Songkhla province alone."

Of the migrants discovered, 74 were Rohingya from Myanmar and 58 were Bangladeshis while the background of 67 more was yet to be determined, he added.

More than 50 police officers, including senior officials, have also been transferred from their posts for complicity or failing to act on the trade.

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