Criminals Run Thailand’s Trafficking Gangs, Says Campaigning Commander

PHUKET: Organised crime was a part of Thailand's human trafficking problem, Thailand's Immigration Division 6 Commander, Police Major General Thatchai Pitaneelaboot, said yesterday.
He dismissed claims that the latest mystery arrivals, whose background has yet to be determined, were ''terrorists.''
''These people are mostly families with young children and we have not found any evidence that they are terrorists,'' he told Phuketwan.
''I don't think they are terrorists. They claim to be people with connections to Turkey. ''
There's a suspicion that some are Uighurs, an oppressed ethnic minority from China, but Major General Thatchai said that so far, he had had no formal approach from the Chinese Government.
Turkish envoys are checking the backgrounds of the hundreds of people now being held in southern Thailand and Bangkok.
Human Rights Watch has warned that they are likely to be poorly treated if sent to China.
About 1000 people – including Rohingya – are now being held in detention in the south, he said. ''Our centres are full,'' he said. ''We cannot take any more. But I know more are coming.''
The new travellers have exposed the ease with which Thailand's borders can be penetrated and raised suspicions that the trafficking network is so lucrative that new sources of transiting immigrants are being sought.
The major general said he believed organised crime was involved in the trafficking. The Rohingya are often beaten in jungle camps while talking on the telephone to raise money for their passage to Malaysia, he said.
''People smuggling becomes human trafficking when there is that kind of violence,'' he said. ''Many of the Rohingya die in the camps because of poor conditions and lack of proper food.''
He warned people who were being encouraged to flee through Thailand to ''check the truth'' before leaving their homelands.
The Rohingya illegal immigrants remain mostly male but the new mystery arrivals were all families, he said. In the latest group to be arrested, there were 64 men, 54 women and 96 children.
The major general is leading a campaign to expose the network of human trafficking along Thailand's Andaman coast and through southern Thailand.
In contrast to other uniformed branches of Thailand's services, he believes in transparency and exposure of what's going on. ''Media freedom is essential and we need two-way communication,'' said the US-educated commander.
''I don't have any problems with the media. I am happy to talk.''
So far his raids on camps and arrests across the southern provinces have confirmed Phuketwan reports of the scale and horrors surrounding the secret jungle camps.
Today he is organising a reunion between 69 of the men apprehended recently, who are being held in Immigration centres, and their wives and children, who are being held in family shelters.
The mystery travellers are likely to be detained for at least two months while their status and future is resolved.
Hundreds and possibly thousands of Rohingya and other illegal immigrants are thought to be still in the secret jungle camps.