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Thai court charges army officer over Rohingya trafficking

A Thai court has issued an arrest warrant for a senior army officer accused of being involved in the trafficking of Rohingya migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Lieutenant General Manas Kongpan could face a criminal trial. He is willing to hand himself in, Thai reports say.

The warrant is part of efforts to close down smuggling routes through Thailand.

Meanwhile Myanmar’s navy is reported to be escorting a boat with about 700 stranded migrants to a “safe” location.

Information Minister Ye Htut told the AFP news agency that the migrants were being taken to an undisclosed but safe area and had been given food and water.

He declined naming the location because of “security and safety concerns”.

‘Complicit in trafficking’

Tuesday’s move to arrest Gen Kongpan is part of an effort by Thailand to close down a human smuggling route through the country.

The Thai navy has in recent months rescued scores of Rohingya migrants The bodies of migrants were last month exhumed from a jungle camp in Thailand’s southern Songkhla province Thousands of Rohingyas are believed to be stranded at sea

Migrants from Myanmar (Burma) and Bangladesh have previously been detained in camps in southern Thailand before being sent to Malaysia.

In 2009, the general told the BBC that Thailand treated migrants humanely after he was accused of ordering more than 1,000 Rohingyas to be set adrift at sea on boats with no engines.

Correspondents say that he is the first member of the military in army-ruled Thailand to be implicated in the trafficking of migrants.

Rights groups have long maintained that the country has not addressed the issue and may even be complicit in the trade.

The warrant against the general was issued by a court on Sunday, police chief Somyot Poompanmoung was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying.

“[We] are confident in the evidence [and] I am confident he will not flee.”

The Thai News Agency on Tuesday interviewed Gen Kongpan, who said he was going to surrender himself to the police in Songkhla province. He said he was willing to co-operate with officers and was preparing to defend himself.

Police have not given details over his alleged role in the multi-million dollar criminal network which authorities believe over the years has been responsible for smuggling migrants through the south of Thailand to Malaysia.

Gen Kongpan, 58, was a senior army officer in the south, where police are examining dozens of shallow graves found last month in a remote migrant camp bordering Malaysia.

Thousands of Rohingyas have in recent months attempted to travel to Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia and many are still believed to be stranded at sea.