11 July 2024

A Myanmar man and his Thai wife, wanted for alleged involvement in the trafficking of Rohingya immigrants into Thailand from Myanmar about seven years ago, have recently been arrested in a southern province by Thai police after they returned from Malaysia.

Assistant national police chief, Pol Lt-Gen Surachate Hakparn, told a news conference today (Friday) that the couple had changed their names and nationalities to Malaysian, in an apparent attempt to avoid detection.

He thanked the Malaysian police for the intelligence, which helped in their arrest at a border hotel.

After leaving Thailand, Surachate said that the couple moved to Malaysia and opened a tour bus business, but were allegedly involved in the smuggling of Rohingya people from Rakhine state in Myanmar, through Thailand, into Malaysia.

Warrants have been issued by the Thai police for the arrests of 153 suspects, including Thai army officers and local officials, allegedly involved in the trafficking. 124 have been arrested and at least 75 were prosecuted. The rest remain at large.

The trafficking scandal was exposed when Thai military and police stumbled upon a jungle camp in Sadao district of Songkhla, where hundreds of illegal Rohingya immigrants were held in custody, as their captors tried to extort ransomsfrom their relatives in exchange for their freedom. A mass grave containing remains of about 30 Rohingya was found in the jungle camp.

Pol Maj-Gen Paween Pongsirin, then deputy commissioner of the 8th Region Provincial Police Bureau, led the investigation,which resulted in many of those arrested being prosecuted and convicted, including an army lieutenant general, who was sentenced to long prison term and, eventually, died in prison.

Paween later sought refuge in Australia, after he felt his life was in danger for his role in the handling of this case.