People smuggling rings busted: Thai police

BANGKOK - Thailand's crackdown on people smuggling and trafficking networks has successfully dismantled the grim trade, police announced, although they admitted that dozens of suspects have yet to be apprehended.

"The case will be submitted to the Office of Attorney-General this afternoon for consideration of indictment," deputy national police chief Aek Angsananont, the officer in charge of the probe, told reporters yesterday. "We have worked carefully and we have confidence in the evidence. We can confirm that the smuggling rings have been stopped."

He said 120 arrest warrants had been issued since a crackdown was launched early last month - 30 of which were approved by a court in the country's south on Monday.

So far 56 people have been detained, leaving 64 either on the run or unaccounted for. Among those arrested is Lieutenant-General Manas Kongpan, a senior military officer charged with being a major smuggling kingpin.

His arrest raises awkward questions for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, as he was promoted while the Premier was army chief. Manas remains the only military officer charged with complicity in people smuggling, but human rights groups and observers say it is unlikely such an influential officer would have acted alone.

Mr Aek declined to say whether any army officers or public officials were among the 30 being sought in the new arrest warrants.

Southern Thailand has long been known as a nexus for lucrative smuggling networks, through which persecuted Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and Bangladeshi economic migrants, among others, would pass on their way to Malaysia. Rights groups have long accused Thai officials of turning a blind eye to the trade and even complicity in it.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2015, with the headline 'People smuggling rings busted: Thai police'. Print Edition | Subscribe