(THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Thailand's national police chief said yesterday that the head of Satun police will be suspended from duty in connection with the ongoing investigation into human traffickers active near the southern border.
National police commissioner General Somyot Poompanmoung said that a team of investigators led by his deputy General Aek Angsananont had suggested a transfer of Police Major-General Sunthorn Chalermkiat, who is chief of the Satun police, to an inactive post at Royal Thai Police headquarters.
Somyot said this was because Sunthorn has close ties with a suspected leader of the trafficking ring.
The national police chief said he would also transfer the five most senior officers at Padang Besar police station in Songkhla, including the superintendent, out of their current jurisdiction. That was in addition to seven more police in Padang Besar suspected of getting bribes from traffickers.
Yesterday, Pol Second-Lieutenant Aree Mansaman and Pol Snr Sgt-Major Assaneeran Nuanrod were transferred out of Padang Besar to facilitate a probe against them. The campsite is in the station's jurisdiction.
The authorities have arrested four of the eight suspects wanted in connection with an alleged extortion and murder camp in Thailand's southern border province of Songkhla.
In custody are Asan Intanu, 48, Ro-aey Sonyalae, 41, Alee Lahmoh, 47, and Soe Naing Arnua (Anwar), 40.
Still on the run are Prasit Lemleh, deputy mayor of the Padang Besar Municipality, Yalee Krem, village head of Moo 8 Ban Taloh, Pakphon Benlateh, and Charoen Thongdaeng.
All eight have been charged with human trafficking, illegal detention and seeking ransom money.
Authorities have taken action against them after 26 bodies were exhumed on Saturday from a mass graveyard in a border zone in Songkhla's Sadao district.
At least one witness has said murders took place at a nearby border campsite where hundreds of migrants had been held.
It is believed that the bodies in the graveyard came from the camp.
The four arrested suspects, however, have denied any role in illegal detention, extortion and human trafficking. Asan has admitted only to having a gun and ammunition in his possession illegally.
Somyot said police were urgently gathering evidence and would bring all the culprits to justice, even if they were government officials or politicians.
"If evidence suggests they might have been involved, we will arrest them," he said.
He added that police were preparing to seek arrest warrants for four more suspects.
One of the 26 bodies from the graveyard was a female, Somyot said.
He said that judging by the fact that some bodies had been interred recently while others had long been buried, it was possible that the camp had been operating for a long time.
Provincial Police Region 8 deputy commissioner Maj-General Somchai Nittayabavornkul said local policemen had engaged in the trafficking of Rohingya.
"These policemen have been arrested and prosecuted. It's just that their cases have not appeared in news reports," he said before he attended a meeting with Deputy Defence Minister and Army chief General Udomdej Sitabutr on how to tackle and prevent the trafficking of Rohingya.
During the meeting in Ranong, Udomdej said officials involved in the trafficking of Rohingya people into Thailand would face decisive legal action.
He instructed relevant state agencies to prepare a list of suspects involved with traffickers who smuggled Rohingya and other "boat people" into Thailand.
Udomdej, who is also deputy director of the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc), admitted that the trafficking network in Ranong was "not a small movement because they have been active for some time".
Somyot said Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha had directly instructed him to work closely with Udomdej to initiate a fast crackdown on human-trafficking gangs that had caused severe damage to Thailand's reputation.
Ranong has been a key entry point for illegal migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Meanwhile, Grisada Boonrach, head of the Department of Provincial Administration, said he ordered the village headman and two assistants be suspended over their alleged involvement in trafficking in the border area. The suspension is effective from today.