Army general among Thais convicted of human trafficking

Cheryl Sanders
July 20, 2017

On Wednesday, a Thai court handed down guilty verdicts for over 60 human traffickers who conspired to transport and imprison untold numbers of migrants, many of whom ended up enslaved in the Thai fishing industry.

Among the defendants is also a high-ranking Thai military official, Lieutenant-General Manas Kongpan.

Commenting on the latest sentencings, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, head of the country's ruling junta, said: "There are many people in this human trafficking network".

He had held a position with responsibility for keeping out and expelling migrants who entered Thailand illegally. One defendant died in custody. He was a prominent businessman and former politician in the southern province of Satun. Under Thai law, however, the maximum sentence a prisoner serves is 50 years.

Army general among Thais convicted of human trafficking

Thailand's junta launched a crackdown in May 2015 on a network funnelling desperate migrants through southern Thailand and onto Malaysia, holding some for ransom in jungle camps.

Stateless Rohingya Muslims have fled neighbouring Myanmar in their tens of thousands since sectarian violence flared in 2012. Instead, they became slaves in Thailand's lucrative fishing fleet, authorities said.

They were joined by Bangladeshi economic migrants on rickety boats southwards across the Andaman Sea, seeking work and sanctuary in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Others did not make it as far as Thai shores.

As evidence implicating officials mounted, the lead police investigator in the case, Major-General Paween Pongsirin, fled to Melbourne, saying he feared for his life after his findings implicated "influential people" in Thailand who wanted to silence him.

The case drew special attention when its lead police investigator, Maj.

However, he said he had no idea how the court's verdict would affect Thailand's reputation regarding human trafficking.

Many Rohingya with the means to leave Myanmar did so by perilous sea journey.

In neighboring Malaysia, following the grave discovery in Thailand, more than 100 bodies were found in mass graves across 20 camps. Several have been convicted.

Last month the U.S. State Department left Thailand on a Tier 2 Watchlist, just above the lowest ranking of Tier 3, in its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report because it did not do enough to tackle human smuggling and trafficking.

Amy Smith, Fortify Rights" executive director, said in a statement: "This may be the end of an important and unprecedented trial, but it's been a rocky road, and it's not "case-closed' for survivors of human trafficking here".

The ensuing investigation was wide-ranging and thorough, and police officials, witnesses and even court interpreters told media that they received threats related to their involvement.

A Thai general was among scores of people convicted for their part in a murderous human trafficking plot involving Burma's persecuted Muslims.

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