Thai cop who implicated military in trafficking fears for life

A camp site in Wang Burma at the Malaysia-Thailand border outside Wang Kelian, which was believed to have been used by people-smuggling syndicates to move large numbers of impoverished Rohingya out of Myanmar.
A camp site in Wang Burma at the Malaysia-Thailand border outside Wang Kelian, which was believed to have been used by people-smuggling syndicates to move large numbers of impoverished Rohingya out of Myanmar. PHOTO: HARIAN METRO

BANGKOK (AFP) - Thailand's probe into human trafficking was wound up too quickly, the officer who led the investigation said on Wednesday (Oct 28), adding he now fears for his life after implicating senior military figures in the grim trade.

The kingdom's role in a multi-million dollar trade in humans emerged in May as people-smugglers abandoned thousands of migrants at sea or in jungle camps after a Thai crackdown.

Thai officials stand accused of orchestrating smuggling routes through the south of their country and on to neighbouring Malaysia.

Major General Paween Pongsirin headed the police investigation which uncovered camps on the Thai-Malaysia border where victims were held in appalling conditions until relatives paid for their release.

The investigation has officially been closed and junta officials trumpeted the crackdown as evidence the kingdom was serious about pursuing traffickers regardless of their connections.

But Paween told AFP the shutdown came too soon.

"The case is not completely finished, there are more people involved because this problem has accumulated for a long time," he said.

According to Paween's latest tally, more than 90 people have been arrested over human trafficking, including senior army general Manas Kongpan who is charged with being a key player in the trade.

A second army officer has been detained while two others and a navy official are still on the run. A sixth military official - an army officer - recently died, he said.

"There are existing threats against me" linked to his unit's pursuit of military figures, Paween added, saying messages had been relayed to him that he "should be cautious".

He did not give any further details of the alleged threats.

Paween said his unit had been disbanded and he himself was recently transferred to Thailand's insurgency-hit three southernmost provinces, a posting he is reluctant to take up because of the military's significant influence there.

Security forces are attacked on a near-daily basis in the southern provinces and it is seen by many officers as a hardship posting.

Thailand has long been a hub for the trafficking of persecuted Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, who in recent years have been joined by Bangladeshi economic migrants.

With the monsoon ending, rights groups warn that boats are likely to set sail over coming weeks.

The belated Thai crackdown came after the United States last year relegated the kingdom to the bottom rung of an influential report ranking nations on their anti-trafficking efforts.

It has remained on the bottom tier for a second year in a row, alongside nations like Iran, Libya, North Korea and Syria.