SURAT THANI – Thai authorities in the last week have rounded up three leading members of a Burmese human trafficking gang responsible for selling hundreds of their fellow countrymen into slavery and murdering dozens of people.
According to the Burmese embassy in Bangkok’s labour attaché Naing Htun, combined forces from the Royal Thai Police and the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) nabbed the group’s leader Ko Myo last week after capturing one of his top aides on 31 July.
Another of the gang’s henchman was reportedly arrested on Tuesday, while officials continue to search for an unidentified Burmese national associated with the outfit.
The notorious human trafficking and racketeering group are believed to have been behind approximately 40 murders and operated around the ports in Trang province’s Kantang district. The area serves as a major hub for Thailand’s massive fishing industry, which employs thousands of Burmese migrants many of whom are believed to have been trafficked and sold into captivity.
“Ko Myo, the human trafficking ring leader, was shot and captured alive at a rubber plantation in Surat Thani during a raid by combined forces from Thai government departments including the Royal Thai Police’s Anti-Human Trafficking Division and the [Thailand Ministry of Justice’s] Department of Special Investigation,” said Naing Htun, who accompanied the officials during the raid.
“Previously, the [authorities] arrested one of his aides and they managed to find out [Ko Myo’s] whereabouts following a trace from his mobile phone.”
Ko Myo was later held in custody at Surat Thani hospital where he was being treated for a gunshot wound in his buttock, which he received after trying to evade arrest. The 42-year-old Burmese national from Kawa township in central Burma’s Pegu division has been living in Thailand for 18 years.
According to the report, “Sold to the sea: human trafficking in Thailand’s fishing industry” by the Environmental Justice Foundation, more than a dozen trafficking victims in Trang province’s Kantang district who were interviewed by the group’s research team identified Ko Myo as the area’s primary trafficker responsible for the torture and murder of individuals who attempted to escape from captivity.
“[Ko Myo’s ring] trafficked an estimated 700 people from Burma into Thailand and sold them to fishing boats and he apparently killed those who refused to be sold. The murders were committed at his home and on the boats. He kept the blood stains of his victims on his house’s wall as well as the ropes he used to hang them with dangling from the ceiling to show as example for the newcomers,” said Naing Htun.
“His gang also raped and murdered a Karen girl and dumped her body in the sea. The body was later recovered and his aide confessed to taking part in her killing along with Ko Myo.”
According to the director of the Myanmar Association in Thailand Kyaw Thaung, Ko Myo operated with near impunity for more than a decade because of his connections with local authorities, including a former Thai immigration official who had “adopted” the suspect.
“He was registered as an adopted son of a former Thai immigration official and this status allowed him to be more ruthless. According to testimonials from migrants in the area, he made about 800,000 baht per month [trafficking] migrants at the port,” said Kyaw Thaung.
Following the rapid expansion of Thailand’s economy in the 1990s and 2000s, the Kingdom has relied largely on foreign migrants to fill manual labour positions in the country’s construction, agriculture and fishing sectors.
According to EJF, Thailand’s seafood industry employs more than 650,000 people and in 2011 the sector’s exports were valued at US$7.3 billion.
Impoverished migrants arriving near southern Thailand’s coastal hubs are especially vulnerable to falling victim to schemes were human traffickers pose as job recruiters and end up selling individuals to boat captains, where they are subjected to beatings and forced labour and detention.
In the US State Department’s 2013 trafficking in persons report published in June, Thailand was placed on the Tier 2 watch list for its fourth year. Thailand will be subjected to an automatic downgrade in 2014 if the country fails to address the growing scourge.
By Nang Mya Nadi