Thailand Arrests Four in Human Trafficking Case

By Nasueroh
150504-TH-survivor-620 The sole person found alive at a trafficking camp on the Thai-Malaysia border receives a visitor at Padang Besar hospital, in Songkhla, Thailand, May 4, 2015.

Three local officials were among four suspects in police custody on Monday in connection with the discovery of 26 bodies at a human trafficking camp along the Thai-Malaysia border.

The dead were victims of a transnational trafficking ring comprised of Thai, Malaysian and Burmese nationals, according to Thai police.

They said the bodies recovered from the site – mostly exhumed from shallow graves – belonged to Muslim Rohingya migrants from Myanmar, and there could be three to five other graves nearby.

But a report in the Bangkok Post on Monday quoted a Bangladeshi man, the only person found alive at the camp on Friday, as saying he had witnessed 40 people die there, including 10 fellow Bangladeshis.

The camp was located in Padang Besar, a sub-district of southern Thailand’s Songkhla province.

The newspaper also quoted a Rohingya community leader in Thailand alleging that thousands of Rohingya were being kept in at least 60 detention camps in the mountains along the border.

"The discovery of the detention camp [in Padang Besar] is just the tip of the iceberg,” Abdul Kalam, former president of the Rohingya Association of Thailand, told the Post.

Suspects charged

At a press conference Monday in Hat Yai, National Police Chief Gen. Somyos Poompanmuang presented three of the four arrested suspects: Arsun Inthanu (also known as Bung Sun), a 42-year-old municipal councilman in Padang Besar; and Ro-a Sonyalae, 41, and Ali Lamoh, 47, both assistant village headmen in the sub-district.

The fourth suspect, identified as 40-year-old Burmese national Saw Naing Anu (also known as Anwar), was arrested in Nakhon Si Thammarat province. Police have issued arrest warrants for four more suspects, who also include local officials.

All four suspects in custody have been charged with human trafficking, illegal detention and holding people for ransom.

“This criminal syndicate is a trans-boundary one comprising Thais, Burmese and Malaysians, who have conducted such criminal activities for three to four years,” Somyos told reporters.

Altogether the remains of 26 people – 25 male and one female – were recovered from the site since Friday.

“For the causes of deaths, we are still awaiting the forensic examination but we suspect sickness and food shortages,” Somyos added.

On Sunday, the Reuters news agency reported that initial forensic examinations of the bodies showed no signs of violent death.

Reaction from Malaysia, Bangladesh

In neighboring Malaysia, Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said his government had seen no evidence of a Malaysian connection to the Padang Besar case.

"There is no proof that citizens of this country are involved at the moment in this syndicate because the laws here are very strict,” he told BenarNews.

''I have asked ministry officials to check with the Thai authorities, but so far we have not received any detailed information,” he added.

In Dhaka, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Khaleda Begum told BenarNews that Bangladesh’s embassy in Thailand was trying to meet with the lone survivor to get more information and determine whether other Bangladeshis were kept at the camp in the jungle.

“The Thai Foreign Ministry gave assurances to cooperate on that, so we are trying to meet him very soon,” she said.

‘We are helping them’

Some1.3 million Rohingyas are stateless and vulnerable in Myanmar, with many denied citizenship, evicted from their homes, and left victims of land confiscation.

Since 2012, thousands have fled communal violence in western Rakhine state, where the Rohingya population is concentrated. In an attempt to reach Muslim Malaysia, many travel through Thailand, paying traffickers hefty sums to get them across the border.

In Songkhla, a local man who spoke to BenarNews on condition of anonymity said that he was involved in facilitating illegal migration.

“We who do this think we are helping them to travel to the third countries because, at home, they are persecuted,” the man said. “They were not lured into traveling but they are willing to do so [in order] to meet and live with relatives in more convenient places.”

“It’s not human trafficking but, I admit, it’s illegal,” he added.

Hata Wahari in Kuala Lumpur and Shahriar Sharif in Dhaka contributed to this report.


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