HAT YAI, Thailand (AP) — A court in southern Thailand has issued arrest warrants for four military officers in connection with the trafficking of ethnic Rohingya migrants, police said Monday.
Police Lt. Gen. Paveen Pongsirin, the chief investigator for the case, said warrants have now been issued for 153 people, 90 of whom have turned themselves in or been detained.
The authorities began their crackdown in May after discovering more than 100 bodies buried in squalid camps built to hide the migrants along the Malaysian border. Ethnic Rohingya continue to flee Myanmar to escape discrimination and seek better economic opportunities. In many cases, the migrants pay to be smuggled by ship, but are then detained by traffickers in Thailand who hold them until their families pay ransoms.
The new suspects for whom warrants were issued in Songkhla province on Sunday are a colonel and two captains in the army who belong to the Internal Security Operations Command, a counterinsurgency agency, and a navy commander. An army major general was arrested in June for alleged involvement in human trafficking.
Earlier this month, an Australian journalist and his Thai colleague were acquitted in a criminal defamation lawsuit filed by an officer on behalf of the navy over their online news report about the trafficking of people from Myanmar. The story they published on the news website "Phuketwan," excerpted from a longer report by the Reuters news agency, alleged that Thai military forces accepted money to assist or turn a blind eye to the trafficking of people from Myanmar by sea.
Human rights activists and foreign governments have long accused Thai authorities of collusion in human trafficking, but police, military and government officials deny the allegations.
The U.S. State Department in July said it was keeping Thailand on its human trafficking blacklist and retained Thailand's Tier 3 ranking, the lowest level in its annual Trafficking in Persons report. The ranking designates Thailand as a country that has not made sufficient progress in tackling human trafficking.
It cited persistent forced labor and sex trafficking and recommended that Thailand stop bringing criminal defamation cases against researchers or journalists who report on human trafficking.