BANGKOK • Thai authorities said yesterday arrest warrants have been issued for three more military officers over human trafficking as part of a crackdown that sparked a regional migrant crisis earlier this year.
Previously, only one senior officer - Lieutenant-General Manas Kongpan - had been charged over the smuggling of Rohingya Muslim and Bangladeshi migrants through southern Thailand after successive Thai governments largely ignored the brutal trade.
People-smugglers abandoned thousands of migrants at sea or in jungle camps after a Thai clampdown on the multimillion-dollar industry in May, a crisis that eventually forced a belated South-east Asia-wide response.
Arrest warrants have now been issued for "four military officers - three from the army and one in the navy", southern deputy regional commander Paween Pongsiri told Agence France-Presse.
Manas was promoted while General Prayut was army chief. While rights groups welcomed Manas' arrest, they said it was unlikely such an influential officer would have acted alone.
This number includes Manas. Deputy regional commander Paween declined to name the others.
Manas is accused of being a major kingpin in the lucrative human-trafficking and smuggling trade. Most migrants sought a new life in Malaysia, but many found themselves held captive in dismal camps on both sides of the Thai-Malaysian border - or on boats - until relatives paid up ransoms.
Manas' alleged involvement raised awkward questions for junta chief Prayut Chan-o-cha, who has repeatedly justified his coup last year as an antidote to graft that he says flourished under a series of elected civilian governments. Manas was promoted while General Prayut was army chief.
While rights groups welcomed Manas' arrest, they said it was unlikely such an influential officer would have acted alone.
Deputy regional commander Paween said a total of 153 warrants have been issued for trafficking since the crackdown, with 90 people detained so far. At least 72 have been indicted, with no trials yet under way.
Thailand has long been a hub for the trafficking of persecuted Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, who have been increasingly joined on their perilous sea crossings by Bangladeshi economic migrants.