A Thai court on Thursday convicted two military officers and sentenced each to 27 years in prison for being involved in a transnational crime syndicate that smuggled Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, officials said.
Natthasit Naksuwan, an army colonel, and Kampanat Sangthongjeen, a navy captain, undertook the unauthorized and non-recorded removal of dozens of undocumented Rohingya migrants, who were being held by police in southern Satun province, and shipped them off in a truck, the Bangkok Criminal Court found.
“As per the court’s consideration, the two are found guilty of organizing transnational crimes, human trafficking and harboring illegal migrants. Being government officers [found guilty], the sentences are doubled,” the court ruled.
The two officers were responsible for intercepting Rohingya who fled from Myanmar and sailed across the Andaman Sea, where they landed on Thailand’s western coast between January 2011and May 2015, the court said.
Both men will appeal the verdict, one of their lawyers told BenarNews.
“There were some 50 migrants, the officers had no place to keep them. He retrieved them from the police and kept them under the marine police but they vanished. No one admitted fault in having let them go,” Wuthichai, an attorney representing Natthasit, told BenarNews. The attorney asked that Benar only use his first name, citing privacy reasons.
He said the case of the two officers was tied to the May 2015 discovery of mass graves in the jungle along Thailand’s southern border with Malaysia that contained the bodies of 32 Rohingya and Bangladeshi victims of human trafficking.
The grisly finding led to Thailand imposing a maritime blockade on boats that smuggled people to the country’s western coast. That move, in turn, precipitated a regional migration crisis that saw thousands of desperate Rohingya and Bangladeshis come ashore in nearby Indonesia and Malaysia in May 2015.
After the discovery, the Thai authorities launched a crackdown on illegal migration, in which a three-star army general, police and government officials were implicated as part of a transnational criminal ring that smuggled in the people whose bodies were buried in those jungle graves.
In July 2017, former Army Lt. Gen. Manas Kongpaen was sentenced to 27 years in prison, when he and 61 other defendants were convicted in Thailand’s largest human trafficking case.