BANGKOK — Three Thai men and one Burmese man have been arrested for their alleged involvement in a deadly detention camp for Rohingya refugees in southern Thailand.
Thai authorities discovered the camp and a "mass grave" containing at least 26 buried Rohingya people on Friday. Police believe the camp, which is located 300 meters from the Thai-Malaysian border, was used by human traffickers to detain Rohingya refugees and demand ransoms from their relatives.
Rescue workers carry a dead body from the suspected detention camp in Songkhla province on 1 May 2015.
According to police, the camp's operators fled the site several hours before security officers arrived, taking all of their captives with them except for one ill and malnourished Rohingya man found at the scene.
Pol.Gen. Somyot Pumpanmuang, commander of Royal Thai Police, said today that four suspects have been arrested in connection to the camp. The suspects are identified as Amsan Intanu, 48; Roe Sonyalae, 41; Arlee Lamoh, 47; and So Niang Anu, 40.
Amsan is an official at a local administrative agency, and So is a Burmese national, Pol.Gen. Somyot said. Two police officers from the police station nearest to the camp have also been indefinitely transferred, he said.
"Right now, it is clear that the detention camp and dead bodies we discovered are related to human-trafficking," Pol.Gen. Somyot told reporters. "It is also clear that this is a transnational operation."
All four suspects have been charged with human trafficking, illegal detention, and abduction for ransom. Amsan was also charged with illegal possession of firearms. Police are looking for four more suspects.
Police believe up to 300 Rohingyas may have been interned at the site, which consists of wooden huts ringed by bamboo fences deep in the jungle in Songkhla province. Authorities believe those found buried at the camp died from illness or starvation.
The Rohingyas are largely-Muslim group that hails from the Arakan region of Myanmar, where they have faced violent persecution from the region’s Buddhist majority.
As a result of ethnic and religious violence, tens of thousands Rohingyas have crossed illegally into Thai territories, often in an effort to reach Muslim-friendly Malaysia. Some Rohingya refugees have been intercepted by human traffickers and held at detention camps for ransom, or sold as slaves onto Thai fishing boats. For years, Thai authorities have largely turned a blind eye.
Last June, the United States government downgraded Thailand to the lowest rank in its annual Trafficking In Persons (TIP) report for failing to meet the minimum standards to combat trafficking. Thailand’s military government, which came to power in a coup d'etat a month prior to the downgrade, has made eradicating human smuggling a national priority.
Asked to comment on whether the discovery of the camp and the mass grave will affect the upcoming TIP report, Pol.Gen. Somyot said the problem has been going on for many years, and insisted that any officials involved in human trafficking will be strictly punished.
"The Prime Minister has instructed me that any state official involved in this must be dealt with severely. No exceptions," Pol.Gen. Somyot said.