Over 50 Thailand police officers punished over links to human trafficking

Migrant workers show their migrant worker cards as Thai authorities inspect a fishing boat in Mae Klong district, Samut Songkhram province, Thailand, on May 7, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA
Migrant workers show their migrant worker cards as Thai authorities inspect a fishing boat in Mae Klong district, Samut Songkhram province, Thailand, on May 7, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA

BANGKOK (Reuters) - More than 50 Thai police officers have been punished over suspected links to human trafficking networks, the police chief said on Thursday, after the prime minister ordered a probe into the discovery of trafficking camps near the Malaysian border.

Thirty-two bodies, believed to be migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh, have been found in shallow graves over the past week in the southern province of Songkhla. Some of the bodies were found at a suspected human trafficking camp hidden deep in the jungle. "We have transferred over 50 police officers over this issue because commanders in local areas know who has been involved in what," Chief of Royal Thai Police General Somyot Poompanmuang told reporters ahead of a meeting in Bangkok to discuss efforts to crack down on the illicit trade. "In the past there were no sincere efforts to solve this problem. This is only something that has happened recently."

Some Thai officials say human trafficking has been allowed to flourish for years amid indifference and, sometimes, complicity by the Thai authorities.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has ordered a clean up of suspected human trafficking camps around the country within 10 days, while United Nations officials have called for a regional effort to end the illicit trade.

Thai police have arrested four men - three Thais and a Myanmar national - on suspicion of human trafficking. Arrest warrants have been issued for a further four people.

Thousands of illegal migrants, including Rohinghya Muslims from western Myanmar and from Bangladesh, brave dangerous journeys by sea and land to escape religious and ethnic persecution and in search of work abroad.

They are often trafficked through Thailand, a predominantly Buddhist country, and taken into the country's jungles, where traffickers demand ransoms to release them or smuggle them across the border to mainly Muslim Malaysia.