Thai PM urges action on human trafficking as US deadline looms

BANGKOK - Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said on Tuesday his government would step up measures against human trafficking as the country scrambles to improve its record in fighting the illegal trade before a US deadline to show improvement.

Thailand is ranked one of the world's worst centres of human trafficking. It was downgraded to the lowest "Tier 3" status last June on the US State Department's annual Trafficking in Persons Report for not fully complying with minimum standards for its elimination.

Prayuth, who as army chief seized power from an elected government in a coup in May, said Thailand would work on areas flagged by the United States before submitting its record for 2014 to the US State Department by a March deadline.

"We have set up a committee to look after 23 areas which the US analyses and has warned us about for years," Prayuth, told reporters in Bangkok.

"We have to take this plan and put it in to action. Police, officials ... everyone."

Any progress made in 2014 could help lift Thailand from the lowest tier and boost investment in industries accused of using trafficked labour, including fisheries.

Shortly after the military seized power in May, it vowed to"prevent and suppress human trafficking".

But an October Reuters Special Report suggests trafficking routes in Thailand were thriving, with jungle camps still holding thousands of people in remote hills near the border with Malaysia and trafficking rings able to operate largely with impunity.

Prayuth acknowledged the complicity of some Thai authorities in smuggling people and forcing them to work in the fishing industry.

"There is not only the human trafficking problem but also slaves and beggars and state officials taking people to work on fishing boats," he said.

Thailand is the world's third-largest exporter of seafood. Senior ministers will meet on Wednesday to assess progress made over the past year.