Sun, May 07, 2017 - Page 4 News List

Thai police hunt traffickers who deserted 35 Burmese

AFP, BANGKOK

Thai police yesterday said they were hunting for suspected human smugglers who deserted 35 Burmese in southern Thailand, a key stop on a regional trafficking route.

The 28 men and seven women were found in Thailand’s Nakhon Si Thammarat Province on Friday without passports or proper visas, provincial police commander Wancha Akepornpich told reporters.

They were bound for Malaysia, where they had been promised work on rubber and palm plantations.

“Their driver told them to wait while he went to go buy meals, but then he fled,” Akepornpich said.

The officer told reporters that the men and women were not Rohingya, a Muslim minority that has fled Myanmar in droves to escape persecution.

The group told Thai police they crossed overland into western Thailand before traveling south by truck.

That route has become more popular since Thai authorities clamped down on trafficking gangs who for years ferried tens of thousands of Burmese refugees and migrants across the Bay of Bengal by boat.

Before crossing into Malaysia, the trafficking victims were often held in Thai jungle camps, where they were beaten, raped and abused until relatives paid release ransoms.

The dangerous sea crossings have slowed dramatically since the 2015 crackdown, a recent UN High Commissioner for Refugees showed.

The UN agency said that there were rumors of “isolated attempts,” but no confirmed arrivals by sea last year.

However, more than 100 Burmese — half of whom were Rohingya — were caught by authorities attempting overland travel into Malaysia, it said.

Thailand’s belated crackdown led to the prosecution of more than 80 trafficking suspects, including local officials and a senior Royal Thai Army general.

Yet, their ongoing trial has been closed off to the media, raising concerns about transparency.

While the movement of Rohingya through Thailand has slowed to a trickle, about 75,000 of the ethnic minority have fled west to Bangladesh since October last year.

The mass exodus was spurred by a bloody military crackdown in the north of Myanmar’s Rakhine State, where the nearly 1 million-strong Rohingya are based.

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