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Arrest Warrant Issued for Thai Army Officer in Trafficking Probe

  • VOA News

FILE - Some migrants despair after the Thai navy tows their boat away from Thailand, in waters near Koh Lipe island, May 16, 2015.

FILE - Some migrants despair after the Thai navy tows their boat away from Thailand, in waters near Koh Lipe island, May 16, 2015.

Thailand has issued an arrest warrant for a senior military officer suspected of being involved in the human trafficking of migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Lieutenant General Manas Kongpan is the highest ranking official yet to be implicated during the Thai government's crackdown on the vast people-smuggling network.

The 58-year-old has been charged with human trafficking, detaining victims of human trafficking, and holding victims of trafficking for ransom, according to the Bangkok Post.

Thailand's ruling military earlier downplayed the suggestion its officers were involved in the smuggling ring, instead arresting dozens of other lower ranking officials.

The crackdown, which began last month, disrupted the longstanding criminal transportation networks, but left many trafficking victims abandoned at sea.

In the past month, thousands of migrants have swum to shore or been rescued off boats along the coasts of Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Bangladesh.

Thousands more migrants are thought to be stranded in the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal, where they are on rickety, overcrowded boats with dwindling supplies.

Chris Lewa, who heads the Arakan Project that is monitoring the crisis, said Tuesday at least 5,619 Rohingya and Bangladeshis disembarked on Southeast Asian shores in May.

An undetermined number of boats are still at sea, Lewa said, adding that some vessels have not yet been abandoned and have thus not yet appeared.

Last week, Indonesia and Malaysia agreed to shelter 7,000 of the migrants, provided they are resettled with the help of the international community within a year.

Many of the migrants are Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar, where they are denied citizenship and many other basic rights.

President Barack Obama on Monday emphasized the U.S. will help resettle the trafficking victims. But he also called on Myanmar to end its mistreatment of the Rohingya, which he said have been "discriminated against significantly."

"I think one of the most important things is to put an end to discrimination against people because of what they look like or what their faith is," Obama said at the White House.

The government of predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, also known as Burma, refuses to recognize the mostly Muslim Rohingya as an ethnic group. It instead views most of them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

At an international conference last week in Bangkok to address the migrant issue, Myanmar leaders denied responsibility for the crisis and criticized those engaged in "finger-pointing."

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