Thai officials prosecuted for human trafficking

Thailand has long been a regional hub for modern day slavery with officials accused of not doing enough to halt the trade

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More than a dozen Thai government officials -- including senior policemen and a navy officer -- are being prosecuted for human trafficking, junta officials said Friday, as they vowed “zero tolerance” of the trade.

Thailand has long been a regional hub for modern day slavery with officials accused of not doing enough to halt the trade and even being active participants.

In June the United States dumped Thailand to the bottom of its list of countries accused of failing to tackle human trafficking.

The kingdom’s junta, which took over in a May coup, has vowed to crack down on the trade and said Friday that they had launched a string of prosecutions against senior officials.

Deputy Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai insisted the arrests -- which included police officers with the ranks of colonel and lieutenant colonel -- were proof that Thailand’s generals were serious about pursuing officials involved in the trade.

“At the least this is an indication of how earnest and determined we are in trying to enforce the law and apprehend the perpetrators,” he told reporters.

Songsak Saicheua, a foreign ministry official, said at least 15 police officers were facing prosecution, alongside a Royal Thai Navy officer, two local administration officials and a social worker.

Many of those trafficked through Thailand are Muslim Rohingya from Myanmar, described by the U.N. as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.

Thousands of Rohingya have fled deadly communal unrest in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state since 2012.

Myanmar views its population of roughly 800,000 Rohingya as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and denies them citizenship.

In recent weeks Thai authorities have discovered scores of the group fleeing dire conditions by making perilous journeys across the ocean, taking advantage of the slightly calmer winter waters in the Andaman Sea to head south.

Earlier this month Thai authorities discovered five pickup trucks carrying nearly 100 Rohingya -- mostly aged under 18 -- in southern Thailand.

Three of the refugees had died from suffocation and dehydration.

Rights groups have criticized Thailand in the past for pushing boatloads of Rohingya entering Thai waters back out to sea and for holding migrants in overcrowded facilities.

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