Lao girls rescued from traffickers, Army joins in anti-trafficking



A team of 30 police officers and government officials rescued eight girls from Laos last week, three of them underage, who had been trafficked into Northeastern Thailand and forced into commercial sex work, as the Prime Minister gave Army officers police powers to arrest suspects engaged in human trafficking, labor abuse and a range of other crimes.

None of the young women rescued in the raid on a bar in Nakhon Phanom province, near the border with Laos, were older than 21 years of age. Police seized evidence, including payment records, boxes of condoms, and a pistol and ammunition the owner allegedly used to threaten the young women and hold them against their will.

Under amendments to Thailand’s Anti-Human Trafficking Law passed in 2015, forcing an underage person to engage in commercial sex will automatically result in trafficking in persons charges. The owner and the manager of the bar have been charged with those offenses and other charges relating to child exploitation and forced labor. Police also found records of bribe payments to officials and have submitted that evidence to the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission and the Anti-Money Laundering Office.

The raid was the result of a tip from NVADER, a registered charitable trust and non-governmental organization with offices in New Zealand and South East Asia, and its partner, the Family Connection Foundation. NVADER had received calls about the bar on a telephone hotline it had set up.

To strengthen enforcement against human trafficking and other crimes, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha used his unilateral power under Section 44 of the constitution to give army officers from the rank of sub-lieutenant and higher the power to make arrests and conduct searches to fight 27 types of crime.

A spokesman for the National Council on Peace and Order, the military body overseeing the country and of which the Prime Minister heads, said the order was aimed at preventing and suppressing certain crimes that pose a danger to public order and peace or could sabotage the economy, society and the nation.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon said the move was necessary because there are not enough police officers to deal effectively with certain crimes.

Aside from the three crimes mentioned, the soldiers have power to act on crimes including and related to human trafficking, labor abuse, extortion, robbery, fraud, document forgery, defamation, debt collection, alien workers, bling, immigration, child protection, tour guide services, forests, prostitution, excise taxation, price collusion, customs, loan sharking, entertainment venues and firearms.