3 Army officers face Rohingya trafficking probe
Accused Isoc officers based at Chumphon; Sukampol 'angry' over allegations against lieutenant, major, colonelThe Army is investigating at least three military officers accused of trafficking Rohingya refugees into the Kingdom.
The news came as a fresh group of 179 boat people landed in southern Phang Nga province yesterday, with more boats headed this way.
The three military officers were assigned to work for the Internal Security Operation Command (Isoc) Ranong Attachment, according to Fourth Army Area chief Lt-General Udomchai Thammasarorach. They have been stationed in Chumphon province.
"Defence Minister Sukampol Suwannathat has instructed me to order the investigation and we have already set up a committee to look into the case," Udomchai told The Nation yesterday.
Udomchai had a closed-door meeting to discuss the matter with Sukampol, who was in Pattani on an inspection of the far South.
The minister appeared angry to learn about the alleged involvement of military officers in the trafficking of Rohingya, a source close to the meeting said.
The accused officers hold the rank of major, colonel and lieutenant, the source said, noting that their commander - a colonel who heads their unit in Chumphon - is also being investigated.
"The military officers in question have said that they used military vehicles to transport the Rohingya for humanitarian assistance, not because they were involved in human trafficking," Udomchai said.
The allegation against the Army officers arose after more than 850 Rohingya were found in the far South earlier this month. Many of them complained of inhumane treatment in their homeland, Myanmar, because the government does not accept them as citizens.
Meanwhile, the latest group of 179 Rohingya refugees arrived in Phang Nga province after maritime police found them floating in a vessel offshore, according to Kura Buri deputy district police chief Laksanawong Rampansuwan.
People on the boat said it took them 16 days to journey from Rakhine state to Thai waters, he said, adding that more Rohingya were on the way and expected to land soon.
On Monday, Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha said any soldiers found to be involved in human trafficking would be expelled and prosecuted.
An investigation by the BBC, revealed on their website, alleges Thai officials have been selling boat people from Myanmar to human traffickers.
BBC news reports allege Thai Navy personnel are also part of the trafficking ring. A source close to Rohingya residing in Thailand said they learnt of Navy officers benefiting from the scam, through cooperation with Myanmar nationals and Rohingya agents.
The Phuketwan website, which won awards for helping to reveal the "pushback" of Rohingya boats four years ago, has similar claims.
Yesterday, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) officials visited ethnic Rohingya detained in Thailand to determine their need to move to a third country. At the time of their arrest, many Rohingya said they wanted a new, safe place to live.
Manasvi Srisodapol, who heads Thailand's Department of Information, said help would be needed from the international community, and third countries, to solve the problems of the Rohingya in the short and long term.
"We have already talked to the Myanmar authorities and the UNHCR about assistance," he said.
Security agencies in Thailand are concerned about the growing number of Rohingya arriving by boat on the Andaman coast other illegal migrants in Thailand.
"We are not ready to host more shelters for the Rohingya here in Ranong," Colonel Narin Phannarai said. He is a deputy chief of a unit overseeing internal security there.
Officials say national security will be jeopardised if the number of illegal aliens grows too big.
In a related development, Thais have donated food and clothing to the Rohingya now detained in Thailand. Songkhla Provincial Islamic Committee has opened a bank account (Islamic Bank of Thailand No. 934 1 48557 6,) to accept donations for the Rohingya. Bt2 million has already been donated.
Despite Thai authorities' pledge to treat the Rohingya well on humanitarian grounds, Ranong residents showed dismay over the influx of immigrants and vowed to oppose the setting up of a refugee camp in the southern coastal province, their leader said last Sunday.
Sucheep Patthong said his group would launch protests if there were reports indicating the government intended to open a Rohingya refugee camp in Ranong. Sucheep said he had sympathy for the Rohingya people but if they were allowed to live in a refugee camp in Ranong, it would have a negative impact on the local people.
"Ranong is already suffering enough from some 100,000 immigrant workers living in the province. This has led to social, security and public health problems," Sucheep added.