Migrant Crisis: Thai General Suspected of Human Trafficking

By Nasueroh

2015-06-01
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150601-TH-Manas-620 Then-Col. Manas Kongpaen speaks to reporters on the sidelines of a seminar in Bangkok on illegal migration, Feb. 13, 2009.
BenarNews

A Thai three-star general is wanted on suspicion of deep involvement in a human trafficking ring stretching from Thailand to Myanmar, Bangladesh and Malaysia, police said Monday.

A court in southern Thailand’s Songkhla province charged Army Lt. Gen. Manas Kongpaen with four offenses under the nation’s anti-human trafficking and immigration laws, and issued a warrant for his arrest.

Manas, who was also suspended by the Royal Thai Army on Monday, is the highest-ranking military officer implicated in a human-trafficking scandal that emerged from last month’s government crackdown on people smuggling.

An ensuing blockade on smugglers’ boats trying to land on Thai shores caused at least 3,000 illegal migrants to come ashore in nearby Malaysia and Indonesia.

Manas is the 85th suspect named in investigations related to the crackdown, launched following the discovery of graves of illegal migrants in Padang Besar, a provincial sub-district on the Malaysian border.

According to Thai news reports, Manas is seeking assistance from a military lawyer to defend himself against the charges.

Manas, 58, was involved in the trafficking of Rohingya Muslim migrants from Myanmar since 2013, Police Gen. Ek Angsananond told reporters in Hat Yai, Songkhla.

“He is wanted for collaborating with altogether three persons to conduct an act of human trafficking, providing assistance to illegal migrants, detaining others and holding others for ransom,” Pol. Gen. Ek told reporters.

In their investigation, police gathered evidence of payments made to Manas’ bank accounts from alleged traffickers, Ek said.

Police are also seeking the extradition from Myanmar of a Thai citizen, Nattapat Saengthong (also known as Ko Mik), on suspicion of involvement in human trafficking, Ek added.

Past duties in the south

Lt. Gen. Manas had extensive previous experience in southern Thailand, a major transit point for the trafficking of Malaysia-bound Muslim migrants.

In 2009, he was assigned to the southern port province of Ranong as one of the key army officers tasked with countering an influx of Rohingya and other ethnic minorities from Myanmar.

Thailand was then criticized for not letting Rohingya come ashore and diverting them to third countries like Malaysia and Indonesia.

“Nothing is wrong when friends wanted to go to the third countries, and we just facilitated them by giving them food, water, supplies and fuel,” Manas told a seminar on illegal migration at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University in February 2009.

Nearly 800 detained

Since the crackdown started in early May, Thailand has detained 779 illegal migrants, said Col. Banpot Poolpien, spokesman for the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC).

Thailand was continuing to patrol waters off its western coast in search of boatloads of migrants that may still be stranded at sea, Banpot said.

“We focus on humanitarian assistance but if any entered the country illegally, we will handle them according to immigration law,” he said.

A Malaysian media report, meanwhile, suggested that migrants were still on the move in southern Thailand.

Some 500 illegal migrants were waiting to cross into Malaysia from Danok, an area in Songkhla province of Thailand, along the border between the two countries.

They were waiting to enter Malaysia at Bukit Kayu Hitam, Kubang Pasu District, Police Supt. Abdul Rahim Abdullah said Monday, according to the state-run Bernama news agency.

“Instruction has been issued for the General Operations Force, Anti-Smuggling Unit and the Bukit Kayu Hitam Police Station to boost security measures,” Abdul said.

In other developments, authorities in Myanmar on Monday were holding a boat carrying more than 700 migrants off its coast, after Myanmar’s navy intercepted the vessel in local waters on Friday, the Reuters news agency reported.

"The government is checking their identity, asking what they want to do and where they want to go," Reuters quoted government spokesman Ye Htut as saying.

But he did not give details about the vessel’s coordinates.

And in eastern Indonesia, 65 migrants from Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka came ashore Monday on Rote island after the Australian navy intercepted their vessel and turned it away, according to Agence France-Presse.

"According to their testimony, they were pushed back by the Australian navy and immigration after they were interrogated," AFP quoted Hidayat, a local police official, as saying. "They said they were on their way to New Zealand."

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