SONGKHLA — Nine more suspects have been arrested by police in an ongoing crackdown on human trafficking operations in southern Thailand that began three weeks ago.
The nine new suspects include eight Thais and one Bangladeshi citizen, said Pol.Maj.Gen. Phuttichart Ekachan, deputy commander of Ninth Region Police. He did not elaborate on their alleged role in the criminal network.
Thai security officers patrol the coast in Ranong province looking for boat people, 20 May 2015.
Thai authorities have issued 77 arrest warrants for suspects connected to the trafficking ring since 1 May, when security officers discovered a jungle camp in Songkhla province that they believe was used by traffickers to detain migrants for ransom before smuggling them into Malaysia. A mass grave of at least 30 corpses belonging to Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants was found nearby. Four more major camp sites have been found in recent weeks.
NGOs and journalists in the region say Thai authorities have long-known about the camps, but turned a blind eye in exchange for bribes.
There are currently 43 people under arrest in connection with the human trafficking network, said Pol.Maj.Gen. Phuttichart. The suspects include local businessman, politicians, and four police officers. At least 50 police officers have also been transferred from the region during the investigation.
Although several Thai media agencies reported this week that police are preparing to issue an arrest warrant on an army officer, a high-ranking police officer dismissed the rumor on 19 May.
"No army officer is involved in the human trafficking network, despite the news that have been published," said Pol.Lt.Gen. Montri Potranant.
On 18 May, the alleged kingpin of the syndicate, Patchuban Angchotipan, aka Ko Tong, turned himself into police after a week on the run. He has denied the charges.
"Officials will continue to expand the investigation," Pol.Maj.Gen. Phuttichart said today. "Whether there is any perpetrator higher than Ko Tong depends on result of the investigation and evidence."
He added that the arrested suspects include seven foreigners.
The crackdown in Thailand has disrupted traditional smuggling routes in the region and unintentionally contributed to a humanitarian crisis at sea, where thousands of migrants have been stranded for days after their smugglers abandoned them to starve.
Over the past two weeks, Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia have towed overcrowded boats of migrants back and forth across their waters in an effort to avoid taking responsibility for the asylum-seekers from Myanmar and economic migrants from Bangladesh.
In a breakthrough meeting yesterday, Malaysia and Indonesia agreed to allow the migrants to land on their shores and provide temporary shelter for up to one year. Thailand declined to join the initiative.