07/24/2015, 00.00
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Bangkok: senior Thai army officer among 72 indicted on people-trafficking charges

Lieutenant General Manas Kongpan is among 72 people indicted on 16 counts, mostly over human trafficking involving migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh. Human rights groups and observers say it is unlikely that such an influential officer could have acted alone.

Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A senior Thailand army officer is among 72 people indicted on human trafficking charges. Lieutenant General Manas Kongpan is the only military officer charged in connection with people smuggling.

In a country ruled by the military since a bloodless coup in May 2014, this has raised eyebrows among human rights groups and observers who say it is unlikely that such an influential officer could have acted alone, and that others should be brought to justice.

Today, in the indictment Thai authorities said that the 72 people, including the senior army officer, who took part in the grim trade in Bangladeshi and Rohingya migrants from Myanmar, later left their charge to drift on their own in the open sea, or hid in the jungle. This eventually led to a major crisis in Southeast Asia.

The Office of the Attorney General of Thailand on Thursday issued an order to charge the suspects on 16 counts, including human trafficking, corruption, and malfeasance.

A court in the southern province of Songkhla, where a mass grave with scores of bodies was found, formally processed the indictments today. As one of the suspects, Lieutenant General Manas Kongpan was charged with being a major smuggling kingpin in the lucrative trade.

His alleged involvement in the sad trade in humans raises awkward questions for junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who repeatedly justified his coup last year as a much-needed antidote to the graft that he said had flourished under a series of elected civilian governments. In fact, Lieutenant General Manas was promoted while Prayut was army chief.

Although he is the only military officer charged in people smuggling, few believe he could have acted alone without protection among his fellow military.

Meanwhile, none of the suspects will be allowed bail.

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