Army general arrested on human trafficking charges

TF June 8_2Thailand’s police captured their first ‘big fish’ in the modern slave trade last week when they arrested a three-star army general on human trafficking charges, prompting the United States Charge d’ Affaires in Thailand to praise the current government’s efforts to combat trafficking and transnational crime.

General Manas Kongpan, an army advisor, surrendered at the Royal Thai Police headquarters in Bangkok last Wednesday. Police say he is a key figure in the trade in people that was uncovered last month with the discovery of virtual prison camps and graves in the Deep South near the border with Malaysia. Police allege he has been trafficking in people, including children, abducting illegal aliens, holding them for ransom and killing some.

General Manas has professed his innocence. A court has rejected his request for bail, expressing concerns that he may try to influence the investigation of his alleged crimes.

In his campaign to end human trafficking in Thailand, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a former army commander in chief, has pledged that anyone involved in human trafficking will face justice, no matter where they work or how high they may rank. Until recently, however, only low-level traffickers have been arrested, prompting critics to claim that the governments’ efforts were not serious.

That is beginning to change as the government has implemented a wide range of measures, including stronger law enforcement, as well as tightening laws and providing better protections for victims and witnesses.

“We welcome reports that Thai police issued arrest warrants including [for a] senior military officer related to migrant smuggling, abuses and trafficking,’’ tweeted W. Patrick Murphy, the highest ranking U.S. diplomat in Thailand until the Senate confirms the appointment of a new ambassador.

Meanwhile, a joint aerial operation by the Thai and U.S. militaries to search for and rescue migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh adrift at sea will end on Thursday. Thailand has granted permission for the U.S. military to use Phuket and other areas in Thailand as a base and staging ground to launch flights over the Andaman Sea where thousands of migrants on rickety boats have been trying to reach Malaysia or Indonesia. On many occasions they drifted into Thai waters.

The Royal Thai Navy has offered humanitarian assistance to the migrants. The government has stated that any who reach land will be sheltered on a temporary basis. Since 1970s, Thailand has already granted long-term shelter to over 140,000 refugees from neighboring Myanmar.

A regional meeting last week organized by the Thai government emphasized the need for relevant countries and the international community to resolve irregular migration in the Indian Ocean, in particular, human trafficking and people smuggling, in a comprehensive and sustainable manner by addressing the root causes and other contributing factors in the spirit of cooperation, international burden sharing and shared responsibility.

For more information and updates about Thailand’s policies and actions against trafficking in persons and related issues, visit www.thaianti-humantraffickingaction.org

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