Unimaginable cruelty in Thai death camps

Suspected Rohingya migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh rest at Rattaphum district hall in Thailand's southern Songkhla province May 9, 2015. (Reuters file photo)

It is hard to comprehend the depth of inhumanity that causes human-traffickers to take money from refugees to smuggle them to a place of safety, but instead then enslave them, exploit them, rape them, ransom them and finally murder them.

The Libyan people-smugglers are bad enough exploiting and torturing helpless sub-Saharan migrants seeking a better life across the Mediterranean in Europe, but the traffickers in Thailand have plumbed new lows of depravity in their treatment of Rohingya Muslims.

A court in Bangkok has just found 40 Thai smugglers guilty of trafficking, kidnapping and murder. The trial of a further 60 accused is still proceeding.

Among those so far found guilty is a former army general, Manus Konpang who was arrested two years ago but who, many assumed, would never actually be brought to trial.

FILE PHOTO: Lieutenant General Manas Kongpan (C), a suspected human trafficker, is escorted by officers as he arrives at the criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, November 10, 2015. REUTERS Photo


Yet Konpang has been convicted of organizing an extensive smuggling racket. His henchmen agreed to smuggle despairing Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugees through Thailand to the safety of Muslim Malaysia.

For this they took hundreds of dollars from each refugee. But instead of honoring the deal, they sent the refugees to guarded jungle camps, robbed them of their possessions and held them hostage.

The prisoners were given phones and ordered to call friends and relatives back home to wire money to ransom them. These demands generally caused consternation. Dirt-poor local communities had often already clubbed together to fund the migrants’ trips to safety. Now they were being told to find yet more cash.

This was appalling enough. But what happened next was abhorrent. Those enslaved migrants who refused to call home or whose relatives said they could not pay the ransoms demanded were killed out of hand.

Their fellow prisoners were forced to bury them in mass graves. But then even many of those refugees who were ransomed were also murdered. Very few found their way on to freedom in Malaysia.

And as Thai security forces closed in on these death camps, the traffickers slaughtered their remaining prisoners, demolished the enclosures and sought to disguise the mass graves by planting fast-growing jungle foliage over them.

It was long assumed that people-trafficking crimes on this scale could not have been perpetrated without some sort of connivance from officialdom.

And indeed the presence of a former general as one of the lynchpins of this inhumane racket, strongly suggests that someone, somewhere who was in a position to stop these horrors did indeed turn a blind eye, no doubt for a suitable bribe.

Yet, it is to the considerable credit of the Thai authorities that when the awful truth began to emerge they acted decisively.

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Cynics of course will argue that with its flourishing tourist economy, the last thing that the Thai authorities wanted was an obscene scandal of these proportions besmirching the country’s international reputation.

But this is to ignore the genuine disgust with which ordinary Thais have greeted the revelations that have so far emerged in this trial.

The prosecution of the remaining 60 defendants has not yet been completed. Those already found guilty await sentencing. Thailand has kept capital punishment that is used most notably for drug dealers.

But it would seem entirely appropriate that all those convicted of these almost unimaginably cruel crimes should be shown the total lack of mercy that they showed their victims.

Winston Smith, Political Correspondent

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