Thais arrest 22 in human trafficking bust

BANGKOK • Twenty-two people have been arrested in Thailand for profiting from human trafficking, the police said yesterday, part of an ongoing crackdown that sparked a regional immigrant crisis earlier this year.

Major-General Paween Pongsirin, a senior police commander in the country's south, said 26 new arrest warrants had been issued for suspects accused of trading in humans and money laundering.

Of the 26 suspects, 12 had already been arrested, he told AFP.

A further 16 arrest warrants have been issued solely for money-laundering charges related to trafficking, of whom 10 suspects had been detained, he added, bringing the total number of warrants issued since the current crackdown began to 145. "No state officials are involved in this batch," he added.

Thailand has long been accused of ignoring official complicity in the multimillion-dollar trafficking trade, which had, until recent months, flourished through its southern provinces and on to Malaysia - the desired destination of Myanmar's persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority.

But a crackdown in May led to the unravelling of vast people-smuggling networks with thousands of immigrants abandoned in open waters and jungle camps by traffickers, a crisis that eventually forced a response from South-east Asia.

Last month, prosecutors from Thailand announced that 72 people have been charged. Among the suspects is Lieutenant-General Manas Kongpan, who has been accused of being a major smuggling kingpin in the lucrative trade.

His alleged involvement raises awkward questions for junta chief General Prayut Chan-o-cha, who has repeatedly justified his coup last year as a much-needed antidote to graft that he says flourished under a series of elected civilian governments.

Lt-Gen Manas was promoted while Gen Prayut was army chief.

He remains the only military officer charged with complicity in people smuggling, an issue that has raised eyebrows among rights groups who say it is unlikely that such an influential officer would have acted alone.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 14, 2015, with the headline 'Thais arrest 22 in human trafficking bust'. Print Edition | Subscribe