Thai Trafficking Suspects Face Civil Lawsuit

Police officers in Songkhla province with signs that encourage locals to call an anti-trafficking hotline if they have any knowledge of human trafficking, 11 May 2015

SONGKHLA — Public prosecutors in Thailand are filing civil lawsuits against suspected human traffickers in an effort to secure financial compensation for the victims, police say.

"Four separate groups — investigation officers, the Attorney-General, social development officials, and the victims — are currently in discussion to determine the damages victims suffered," said Pol.Maj.Gen. Phuttichart Ekachan, deputy commander of the Ninth Region Police. "The Attorney-General will then file a compensation lawsuit on behalf of the victims."

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Security officers find 26 migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh wandering in a jungle in Songkhla province, 11 May 2015

A total of 77 arrest warrants have been issued this month in connection with human trafficking operations in southern Thailand. Forty-six people, including local businessmen, police officers and politicians, have been detained so far.

The suspects are also being prosecuted for the criminal charges of human trafficking and other "transnational crimes," said Pol.Mag.Gen. Phuttichart.

The officer said 64 of the approximately 300 recently-rescued migrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar have been classified as victims of human trafficking. The others are being processed as illegal immigrants.

"The interrogation is almost completed now," he said. "We have only 9 more [victim witnesses] to go." 

Police are still looking for a core leader of the human trafficking operation named Piyawat Pongthai, who is believed to have fled abroad, Pol.Maj.Gen. Phuttichart said. 

Thai authorities launched an unprecedented crackdown on human trafficking operations in the south after security officers found detention camps and mass graves of migrants in Songkhla province in early May. 

Police believe the camps were used by traffickers to detain migrants and extort ransom money from their families.

Thailand has long been a transit country for human traffickers who prey on the Rohingyas, a persecuted ethnic group in western Myanmar, but Thai authorities have been mostly turned a blind eye.  

At the press conference today, Pol.Maj.Gen. Phuttichart said police have started a program to encourage civilians in southern Thailand to be on lookout for traffickers.

"Around 6,800 people have signed up to cooperate," Pol.Maj.Gen. Phuttichart said, adding that "majority of local residents" are opposed to human trafficking. 

However, the BBC recently aired a documentary in which locals explained how "entire communities" in parts of southern Thailand are complicit in trafficking operations, with residents serving as guards and food fetchers.  

This week, Malaysian authorities also found 139 graves, many containing multiple corpses, at 28 human trafficking camps near the Thai sites on the Malaysian side of the border.  

 

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