NONG KHAI — Authorities in northeastern Thailand raided two brothels near the Thai-Laotian border where several underage Laotian girls said they were forced to work as sex workers.
The two brothels are located in Tha Bo and Sri Chiang Mai districts, officials said. Six Laotian girls were found at the first venue, and three at the second.
According to Nong Khai Governor Suchart Noppawan, the nine girls are bewteen the ages of 15 and 17, and some of them said they were trafficked across the border and forced to work in the brothels.
"We sent spies to make inquiries at the brothel, and we learned that some of the Laotian women said they have been duped into working as prostitutes at the places," Suchart said in a press conference. Local authorities learned about the two brothels from anonymous tips filed to a local government complaint center.
The Thai owners of the brothels, Sompit Dongluang, 41, and Kosol Ouphard, 60, have been arrested and charged with human trafficking. The offence carries betweeen 4 and 15 years in prison.
Five senior police officers have also been transferred to inactive posts for neglecting to enforce anti-trafficking measures in their areas, the commander of Nong Khai Police force said today.
The raids came a day after the United States government awarded Thailand the lowest possible ranking in its annual report on human trafficking, citing the country’s failure to make significant efforts to stem trafficking across its borders.
The 2015 Trafficking in Person report (TIP) described Thailand as a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children who are often defrauded by brokers into working in the sex trade or fishing industry.
It is the second year in a row that Thailand has been placed in the "Tier 3" category, alongside other nations like Libya, North Korea, Iran, and Zimbabwe.
Thailand's army chief, Gen. Udomdet Sitabutr, said today that he believes Thai authorities have been enforcing anti-trafficking laws "very well" in the past year.
"All the influential people, I think they don't exist anymore," Gen. Udomdet said.
The current military government's most extensive clampdown on a trafficking operations began this May – after the reporting period for the TIP had passed – and has led to the indictment of at least 72 people on trafficking charges.
"But if there is still anyone who commits a wrongdoing, they will be certainly punished," the army chief continued. "Please have confidence in us. And if anyone finds or has information about any wrongdoer, please report it to police and the military."
When a reporter asked Gen. Udomdet whether he believes the US’s Tier 3 ranking was a "political" decision, the general replied, "I cannot answer that. I want people in society to think about it on their own. I think every nation is our friend, and they should keep good relationships with each other."
Critics say the US's decision to upgrade Malaysia to Tier 2 this year was a politically-motivated effort to secure Malaysia's inclusion in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a US-led free trade deal involving a handful of Pacific nations. Thailand has not participated in the negotiations for the trade pact.
In a statement published after the report’s release, the US Embassy in Bangkok said the TIP rankings are "made without consideration of the country’s current political context."