A southern man alleged to be a suspected human smuggling kingpin was in police custody yesterday after a brief manhunt along the Thai and Malaysian border as part of the ongoing crackdown on a vast network in the trafficking of Rohingya and other migrants.
Pajjuban Angchotephan, also known by the alias of Ko Tong (Big Brother Tong), was flown from the South to be paraded at a police conference at Don Mueang airport.
Royal Thai Police commissioner General Somyot Poompanmoung dismissed reports that police had a secret negotiation with him prior to his surrender.
Pajjuban's request to be released on bail was rejected and he is being detained at the Provincial Police Region 9, which covers provinces in the upper South where Pajjuban is based and turned himself in.
A former local politician in Satun, Pajjuban claimed that he had contacted deputy police chief Lt-General Chakthip Chaijinda to arrange his surrender after learning about the allegation against him from the news.
News reports had quoted several senior police officers as saying police were trying to coordinate with the Malaysian authorities to hunt down Pajjuban, who they said had fled Thailand from his home province Satun.
In related news, a senior officer at Khiansa Police Station in Surat Thani has been transferred pending an investigation into an allegation he had benefited from Rohingya smuggling.
Police have also obtained arrest warrants for Pajjuban's wife, Thassanee, and a police officer based in Ranong, Lieutenant Narathorn Samphan.
A closed-door key meeting on the suppression of human trafficking was held yesterday at a naval auditorium in Phuket.
The attendants included civilian authorities from Phuket, Phang Nga, Satun, Krabi and Ranong along with naval officers and military and police personnel.
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, speaking after the meeting, said that to comprehensively tackle the problem all countries involved in the overall smuggling process needed to address the issue and jointly work out the solutions together.
He said the Ranong governor had informed the meeting that the two prospective sites in this province to be used as temporary shelters for the migrants were not suitable, and the Police Immigration Bureau remained capable of housing the existing migrants.
Meeting in Kuala Lumpur today
Thailand is currently hosting more than 1,000 Rohingya and other migrants, he said, adding that there were now 28 suspects in custody, out of a total of 65 people wanted under arrest warrants.
On the international front, Foreign Minister Tanasak Patimapragorn will today join a meeting with his counterparts from Malaysia and Indonesia in Kuala Lumpur to discuss ways to tackle human trafficking, according to an official at the Foreign Ministry.
"From Thailand's point of view, international co-operation is needed to tackle the problem in accordance with [a] humanitarian basis and international burden sharing," said the ministry's spokesman Sek Wannamethee.
Malaysia's Foreign Minister Anifah Aman called the meeting of the three nations after thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants were refused permission to land on any shore of these Southeast Asian nations.
Myanmar said it acknowledged the international concerns over the fleeing of Rohingya from its Rakhine state but insisted it should not be solely blamed for the regional migrant crisis.
Information Minister Ye Htut said his country understood "the concerns [of] the international community on the people in the sea".
"Instead of blaming Myanmar for all these problems ... all these issues should be solved by the regional partners," he added in English following a briefing between government officials and diplomats in Yangon.
Malaysia, as the current chair of ASEAN, wanted Myanmar to hold an emergency meeting on the issue but the government in Nay Pyi Taw offered a cold response to the idea and suggested it would reject an invitation by Thailand to attend a meeting on migration in Bangkok on May 29.
At sea, the Indonesian navy prevented a suspected migrant boat from entering territorial waters last weekend after the arrival of hundreds of Rohingya and Bangladeshis and had stepped up patrols in the area, the military said yesterday.
Meanwhile the Philippines said it would push back to sea undocumented Asian boat people despite a United Nations appeal to Southeast Asian countries to open their ports to the migrants from impoverished Myanmar and Bangladesh.