NGOs press over trafficking

NGOs press over trafficking

Rohingya smugglers 'still in the country'

Five non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have submitted an open letter to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha demanding the government continue investigating the human trafficking of Rohingya refugees in a bid to rid the country of the network responsible.

The five NGOs are Union for Civil Liberty, Cross Cultural Foundation, Human Rights and Development Foundation, Campaign for Popular Democracy and Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Myanmar.

The trafficking of Rohingya caught public attention after Move Forward Party MP Rangsiman Rome raised the issue during a debate in parliament last Friday.

He pointed to the controversy surrounding Pol Maj Gen Paween Pongsirin, formerly the country's lead investigator in human trafficking. Pol Maj Gen Paween is known for his probes into the mass graves of Rohingya migrants near the Thai-Malaysian border in Songkhla's Padang Besar district, which led to the prosecution of over 60 suspects including several government officials and military officers.

The case was unprecedented as it led to the nailing of the highest-ranking military officer to have been convicted of such a crime -- army adviser Lt Gen Manas Kongpan, who was jailed for 27 years for trafficking, taking bribes and transnational crimes. He died in prison of a heart attack last year.

Instead of receiving due recognition as the lead investigator, however, Pol Maj Gen Paween was forced to seek refuge in Australia six years ago out of fear for his life, after his probe implicated "influential" people who wanted to "silence" him.

However, the wrongdoers are believed to be still at large and the network remains active in the country.

The NGOs said human trafficking is a transnational form of organised crime that earns huge amounts of money. They claim these gangs remain active in the country because some state officials are involved.

Last year, Thailand was downgraded to the Tier 2 Watch List on the US Trafficking in Persons Report.

The NGOs said if the government fails to show significant efforts to target and remove the network, the country may be further downgraded to Tier 3 for not fully complying with the minimum standards required and not making significant efforts to do so.

The groups, therefore, urged the prime minister and government to continue the investigation in order to expose the mastermind behind the trafficking of the Rohingya.

Meanwhile, Gen Kongcheep Tantravanich, spokesman for Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, insisted Gen Prawit is not associated with the case, despite the opposition party claiming his subordinates ordered the release of Lt Gen Manas on bail via a phone call.

Gen Prawit wanted to know the details of all the accomplices ahead of legal proceedings, Gen Kongcheep said.

Mr Rangsiman pointed to the government's lack of effort to expand the investigation. He demanded it show greater sincerity in tackling the issue by forming a reliable panel that is accepted by the public.

Regarding the fate of Pol Maj Gen Paween, national police chief Suwat Jangyodsuk said no legal charges had been pressed against him. He also guaranteed that Pol Maj Gen Paween would be safe if he returns.

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