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New arrests in Thai human trafficking probe


jail-loyarburokTwenty-two people have been arrested in Thailand for profiting from human trafficking, police said Thursday, part of an ongoing crackdown that sparked a regional migrant crisis earlier this year.

Major-General Paween Pongsirin, a senior police commander in the country’s south, said 26 new arrest warrants had been issued for suspects accused of trading in humans and money laundering.

Of the 26, 12 had already been arrested, he told AFP.

A further 16 arrests warrants have been issued solely for money laundering charges related to trafficking, of whom 10 had been detained, he added, bringing the total number of warrants issued since the current crackdown began to 145.

“No state officials are involved in this batch,” he added.

Thailand has long been accused of ignoring official complicity in the multi-million dollar trafficking trade, which had until recent months flourished through its southern provinces and onto Malaysia — the desired destination of Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority.

But a crackdown in May led to the unravelling of vast people-smuggling networks with thousands of migrants abandoned in open waters and jungle camps by traffickers, a crisis that eventually forced a Southeast Asia-wide response.

In July Thai prosecutors announced that 72 people have been indicted.

Among the suspects is Lieutenant General Manas Kongpan, charged with being a major smuggling kingpin in the lucrative trade.

His alleged involvement raises awkward questions for junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who has repeatedly justified his coup last year as a much-needed antidote to graft that he says flourished under a series of elected civilian governments.

Manas was promoted while Prayut was army chief.

He remains the only military officer charged with complicity in people smuggling, an issue that has raised eyebrows among rights groups who say it is unlikely such an influential officer would have acted alone.

Last month — for the second year in a row — Thailand was placed by the United State at the bottom tier of its ranking of countries failing to tackle human trafficking alongside nations like Iran, Libya, North Korea and Syria.

The current crackdown came after the reporting period of the State Department’s latest “Trafficking in Persons” report ended and Prayut has expressed hopes his country will be upgraded next year.

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