Thai­land army of­fi­cer wanted over mi­grant traf­fick­ing hands him­self in

The China Post - - GUIDE POST -

A high- rank­ing Thai army of­fi­cer wanted on hu­man traf­fick­ing charges sur­ren­dered to po­lice Wed­nes­day, the first mil­i­tary fig­ure in the junta-ruled king­dom to be ar­rested over the grim trade.

Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Manas Kong­pan vol­un­tar­ily ar­rived at po­lice head­quar­ters in Bangkok on Wed­nes­day morn­ing.

His detention raises awk­ward ques­tions for junta chief Prayut Chan-Ocha, who has re­peat­edly jus­ti­fied his coup last year as a much-needed an­ti­dote to graft that he says had flour­ished un­der a se­ries of elected civil­ian gov­ern­ments.

Manas, a long-serv­ing army of­fi­cer in Thai­land’s south, ar­rived at po­lice head­quar­ters dressed in his mil­i­tary uni­form and made no state­ment to a wait­ing press pack.

But the coun­try’s top po­lice of­fi­cer said the 58-year-old de­nied the charges against him.

“(He) con­tacted me to sur­ren­der and to fight the case,” na­tional po­lice chief Somyot Poom­pan­moung told re­porters.

“He said he has no in­volve­ment in the case — in other words he de­nied the charges,” Somyot added.

Thai po­lice have yet to de­tail what role Manas is al­leged to have played in the coun­try’s once thriv­ing peo­ple smug­gling and hu­man traf­fick­ing trade.

Rights groups have long ac­cused Thai of­fi­cials of turn­ing a blind eye to — or even com­plic­ity in — the trade of mi­grants through its south­ern prov­inces and into Malaysia, but un­til now no mil­i­tary per­son­nel have been im­pli­cated.

Thai po­lice say they have is­sued 84 ar­rest war­rants in con­nec­tion with their peo­ple smug­gling and hu­man traf­fick­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion, with 51 sus­pects de­tained so far, in­clud­ing some lo­cal of­fi­cials.

South­ern Thai­land has long been known as a nexus for lu­cra­tive and largely unchecked smug­gling net­works through which per­se­cuted Ro­hingya Mus­lims in Bud­dhist-ma­jor­ity Myan­mar, and Bangladeshi eco­nomic mi­grants, among oth­ers, would pass on their way to Malaysia.

The ex­tent of the trade — and the bru­tal­ity of gang­mas­ters who ran it — was laid bare last month when a Thai crack­down led to the dis­cov­ery of scores of jun­gle pri­son camps on both sides of the Thai­land-Malaysia bor­der that were run by smug­gling gangs.

So far more than 150 graves have been un­cov­ered in the camps where many vic­tims were held for months in mis­er­able con­di­tions un­til rel­a­tives paid hefty ran­soms for the re­lease of their loved ones.

In re­cent weeks around 4,500 hun­gry and bedrag­gled mi­grants have ar­rived on Thai, Malaysian, In­done­sian, Bangladeshi and Myan­mar soil af­ter the crack­down threw smug­gling routes into dis­ar­ray.

Ac­cord­ing to the Royal Thai Army web­site, Manas was the com­man­der of the up­per south prov­ince of Chumphon in 2013, be­fore tak­ing a se­nior po­si­tion in Songkhla, which bor­ders Malaysia.

He was moved this year to the Royal Thai Army Head­quar­ters in Bangkok to act as an ad­viser — although it was not im­me­di­ately clear in what ca­pac­ity.

The army has suspended Manas and launched an in­ter­nal probe since the ar­rest war­rant was is­sued against him on Sun­day.

AP

Se­nior ad­viser to the Royal Thai Army Lt. Gen. Manas Kong­paen, left, leaves the po­lice head­quar­ters in Bangkok, Wed­nes­day, June 3.

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