SONGKHLA – Passengers on a southbound train were reportedly robbed in their sleep just metres away from the lady-only car installed in the wake of a deadly rape on the same rail route last month.
The incident took place at around 3 am on Thaksin (southbound) Express Train no. 37, which was traveling from Bangkok to Narathiwat province this morning, police said.
According to Pol.Col. Witset Ketpan, deputy commander of Thai Railway Police, nine passengers said they lost their phones and cash in the theft. 30 passengers were in the car at the time, Pol.Col. Wiset said, adding that the perpetrator managed to remove sim cards from all the victims' phoens and left them behind, in order to avoid tracking from the police.
"I believe the thief was on the same car," Pol.Col. Wiset said.
Pathom Pinakan, a volunteer ranger who was traveling with three squad mates, said he and his companions were deep in their sleep when the theft happened, and only discovered that their belongings were missing when they woke up at 6 am. He also suspected that he and other victims may have been drugged by the perpetrator.
"Many other passengers were also robbed," Mr. Pathom said, "Everyone said the same thing: they were sleeping very deeply. Some also had dazing conditions when they woke up. It's possible all of us in the car were drugged."
However, Pol.Col. Wiset said it is "very unlikely" that the victims were drugged because some of passengers were still conscious when the theft occurred, though he said the police will investigate the claim very seriously.
Cpt. Panomnoi Thiplai, a police officer at Hat Yai Train Station, said the perpetrator may have departed the train with some other passengers at Thoong Song Train Station in Surat Thani province. He told Khaosod that the police have combed every passenger on the train and none of them is a suspect at the moment.
Theft, rape, and murder
The incident is bound to stir a new round of criticism and scrutiny toward the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) regarding its security measures, especially because the theft happened just next to the special "lady-only" sleeping car, which officials promise would be a safe environment for women and children passengers.
The lady-only car was installed after the horrific rape and murder of a 13-year-old girl on the same train route in July.
Wanchai Saengkhao, a 22-year-old cleaning staff on the train, confessed to sexually assaulting the girl in her sleeping cabin and throwing her body overboard afterwards. The suspect also claimed he committed the crime because he was drunk and high on amphetamines at the time. He is currently awaiting trials for charges of premeditated murder, sexual assault, theft, and drug abuse in a prison.
The rape and murder sparked a wave of outrage among the Thai public, even leading some citizens to defy the martial law's ban on public protest to stage demonstration calling for death penalty for convicted rapists. Meanwhile, a number of women also avoided using the SRT night trains, preferring rides on public buses.
Pol.Maj.Gen. Thanang Buranon, commander of Thai Railway Police, said today that the police have been doing their best to provide security to the passengers on the trains.
He claimed that no harm ever came close to those in the lady-only sleeping car when this morning's theft took place because there were volunteer rangers and police officers guarding the car at the time.
"However, we will urgently come up with new measures to prevent further incidents, "said Pol.Maj.Gen. Thanang.
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