Paween defies PM's call to return

Paween defies PM's call to return

Whistleblower stands by death threat claims

Pol Maj Gen Paween Pongsirin: 'I just fled from death threats in Thailand'. (Video screen grab from ABC Australia)
Pol Maj Gen Paween Pongsirin: 'I just fled from death threats in Thailand'. (Video screen grab from ABC Australia)

Former senior police officer Paween Pongsirin, who blew the whistle on a network of military and police officers involved in the trafficking of Rohingya migrants, has refused to return to Thailand to back up his claims of receiving death threats. 

Pol Maj Gen Paween rejected requests by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon asking him to come back to Thailand.

He was asked to provide information to a panel set up by national police chief Chakthip Chaijinda to investigate his claims. Pol Maj Gen Paween would be given full protection, Gen Prawit previously said.

Pol Maj Gen Paween fled to Australia last month, claiming he feared for his life. He now is seeking asylum there.

He has repeatedly claimed he received several death threats from those in authority while heading his investigation. 

"I just fled from death threats in Thailand. Why should I go back to face those threats again," Pol Maj Gen Paween told the Bangkok Post Thursday. 

Pol Maj Gen Paween said he no longer trusted anyone, especially those in positions of authority. "They have no credibility any more," Pol Maj Gen Paween said.

Pol Maj Gen Paween said lawyers at the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre (RILC) in Australia advised him to avoid giving interviews about the issue to foreign media because this could affect his asylum bid.

However, he said he chose to speak in his defence and provide facts on human trafficking.

Poj Maj Gen Paween said he earlier received an honorary plaque from Gen Prayut in recognition of his efforts to combat human trafficking.

"But what I got in return for working on the case is that I was forced to resign and flee from death threats," he said.

"Someone told me to resign and keep quiet," he added, without revealing who asked him to quit.

Pol Maj Gen Paween said arrest warrants have been issued for several human traffickers, though no action has been taken to bring the offenders to justice.

He also said if his human trafficking investigation report along with evidence he had gathered were presented to prosecutors and the court, he believed all major suspects in the case, including "big military officers", would be brought to justice.

Pol Maj Gen Paween said he was preparing paperwork to apply for asylum and will go to the RILC on Tuesday to seek advice on the procedure.

Asked to comment on whether Thailand's human trafficking record will improve in the eyes of the international community, Pol Maj Gen Paween said general information on human trafficking in Thailand was "not much different from that in his investigation report".

The human trafficking problem will remain a major concern as long as the network is not wiped out or there are still efforts to help those involved in the trafficking, Pol Maj Gen Paween said.

"I miss Thailand, which is my home country, but I cannot return. It is not easy to live abroad, but I have to adjust to survive," he said.

Pol Maj Gen Paween insisted that there was no one behind his move to expose the alleged links between influential figures in the military and police and the human trafficking networks.

He said he had no affiliations with any politicians and that his track record in his police career was clean.

He said the human trafficking networks are involved in the smuggling of tens of thousands of people. He said "it is impossible" that authorities are not aware of who is involved in the trafficking, he said.

Deputy police chief Srivara Ransibrahmanakul, who was appointed by national police chief Chakthip to lead an inquiry into Pol Maj Gen Paween's death threat claims, earlier concluded "no such threats had been made".

Pol Gen Srivara said the panel checked with other police investigating trafficking cases, but found none had reported being coerced or threatened by any influential groups.

Pol Maj Gen Paween travelled to Melbourne earlier this month, where he told local media outlets he was fleeing death threats made by influential people in the military and police linked to the trafficking cases he had been working on.

He resigned from the police force on Nov 5 after being transferred from his post as deputy chief of Provincial Police Region 8 to the Southern Border Provinces Police Operation Centre.

He claimed the transfer put him at risk of revenge attacks by members of trafficking syndicates that operate in the South and was aimed at silencing him. He said he had raised concerns about his safety before.

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