Migrant Crisis: Thai General Surrenders

By Nasueroh

2015-06-03
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150603-TH-manas-620 Lt. Gen. Manas Kongpaen (center), who faces human trafficking-related charges, appears at police headquarters in Bangkok, June 3, 2015.
AFP

A three-star general is in Thai police custody on charges related to human trafficking, after he turned himself in to authorities in Bangkok on Wednesday.

Royal Thai Army Lt. Gen. Manas Kongpaen appeared at National Police headquarters before being flown to Songkhla province in southern Thailand, where the charges were formally read to him.

“Lt. Gen. Manas, the suspect in an arrest warrant, travelled here to turn himself in to defend himself,” National Police Chief Gen. Somyos Poompanmuang told reporters in Bangkok.

“We discussed the legal procedure and we will send him over to Pol. Gen. Ek Angsananond, who is in charge of this case, before handing him over to the interrogator at the regional police bureau 9 [in Songkhla].”

By responding to the warrant for his arrest, the 58-year-old Manas became the highest-ranking figure implicated to date in a human trafficking scandal that has rocked Thailand since early May.

That’s when authorities discovered the bodies of 32 illegal migrants at abandoned people-smuggling camps hidden in the jungle in Songkhla near the Malaysian border. A subsequent crackdown by the Thai junta on human trafficking led to thousands of illegal Bangladeshi and ethnic Rohingya migrants coming ashore in Malaysia and Indonesia, after Thailand mounted a naval blockade on smugglers’ boats trying to land on its shores.

84 suspects

“There is no report that Lt. Gen. Manas has submitted a bail request, but I with treat him with honor because he is a senior officer,” Ek said after Manas had arrived in the south.

The army general did not speak to reporters as he walked into the regional police bureau. On Tuesday, he had proclaimed his innocence and told the media he was ready to defend himself in court.

Manas stands accused of being involved with a transnational human trafficking ring operating in Songkhla, and whose network allegedly stretched from Thailand to Myanmar, Bangladesh and Malaysia.

He is charged with collaborating in human trafficking, providing assistance to illegal migrants, detaining others and holding them for ransom.

“With regard to the development of the [human trafficking] cases, 84 arrest warrants have been issued,” Ek said, adding that 52 of the suspects had been arrested or had turned themselves in, while 32 others were at-large.

Corpses on the beach

In related news on Wednesday, the Associated Press reported that dozens of corpses had drifted to shore last month in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state – which is where most Rohingya Muslims come from.

“Some were believed to be Rohingya Muslims trying to escape trafficking ships, while others were Bangladeshi,” AP reported.

At least 47 bodies had washed up on local beaches and in the mouths of rivers between May 12 and May 24, the news agency quoted Chris Lewa of the Arakan Project, a human rights advocacy group, as saying.

She suspected that those people had drowned while trying to swim to shore after escaping from boats, according to AP.

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