Wed, Jun 03, 2015 - Page 6 News List

Thai army officer sought in probe

AFP, BANGKOK and YANGON, Myanmar

A Thai court has issued an arrest warrant for a high-ranking army officer over human trafficking, police said yesterday, making him the first military figure in Thailand to be implicated in the trade in migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Rights groups have long accused officials in junta-ruled Thailand of turning a blind eye to human trafficking, or even complicity in the trade — but until now no army official has been implicated.

A court on Sunday issued an arrest warrant for Thai Lieutenant General Manas Kongpan, accusing him of involvement in human trafficking, Royal Thai Police-General Somyot Poompanmoung said.

“Police are confident in the evidence,” Somyot told reporters. “I am confident he will not flee.”

However, Somyot declined to give further details of Manas’ alleged role in what officials describe as a multimillion dollar criminal network that has shuttled migrants through Thailand to Malaysia for years.

Manas, who is 58, was a senior army officer in Thailand’s south, the focus of a trafficking probe that began after dozens of shallow graves were found on May 1 in a camp bordering Malaysia.

According to the Royal Thai Army Web site, Manas was the commander of the province of Chumpon in 2013, before taking a senior position in Songkhla, which borders Malaysia. He was moved this year to the Royal Thai Army Headquarters in Bangkok to act as an adviser — although it was not clear in what capacity.

Thai Minister of Defense Udomdej Sitabutr, who initially ruled out the possible involvement of the military in the scandal yesterday, suspended Manas.

“The army will not protect any wrongdoers,” he said, launching an internal probe into the allegations. “[However,] in his [Manas’] case, he still has the chance to defend himself.”

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