A man suspected of playing a key role in smuggling Rohingya migrants in Songkhla province surrendered to police yesterday and denied all charges.
After almost one month on the run, Prasit Lemle, 48, a former mayor of Padang Besar municipality in Sadao district, contacted Padang Besar police chief Peerapong Chai-arun. He told the officer he wanted to turn himself in.
Songkhla police had obtained an arrest warrant for Mr Prasit for alleged involvement in bringing more than 900 Rohingya into the country. The first group of more than 300 Rohingya migrants were arrested at a rubber plantation belonging to Mr Prasit in Sadao district on Jan 10.
Eight other suspects accused of taking part in the smuggling of the Rohingya, including two Thais and six Myanmar nationals, have been arrested.
Police are still hunting for another Myanmar suspect identified as Jamanadin, 45.
The suspects were charged with helping the Rohingya migrants enter Thailand illegally, providing them with shelter, and detaining them against their will.
Pol Maj Gen Pisit Pisutsak, chief of the 9th Police Region Bureau in the South, yesterday took Mr Prasit before the media. Mr Prasit told reporters he was innocent.
He said the rubber plantation where the Rohingya were found belonged to his father and he knew nothing about the migrant smuggling, Pol Maj Gen Pisit said. A total of 5,899 Rohingya migrants are known to have illegally entered Thailand by sea on 48 occasions since October last year, Internal Security Operations Command spokesman Dithaporn Sasasamit said.
Of those, 1,752 _ 1,442 men and 310 women and children _ are still in Thailand, Lt-Gen Dithaporn said. The rest of the migrants have been deported.
Of the male migrants, 1,177 have been detained at holding centres run by the Immigration Police Bureau in Songkhla and nearby provinces, and 265 are staying at a centre run by other agencies.
The 310 women and children are now in the care of the social development and human security office of Songkhla.
The Rohingya will be provided with humanitarian aid for up to six months.
The Foreign Ministry will work with Myanmar to issue documents to confirm their citizenship and deport the migrants. Simultaneously, the ministry will contact third countries about whether they are willing to take the Rohingya.
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Writer: Wichayant Boonchote & Wassana Nanuam