The Superintendent of Kuaraburi Police Station, Colonel Veerasin Khwanseng, said today that all the people being held were in two pickups stopped about 11am yesterday at a checkpoint on the main road south from the Andaman coast fishing port.
One of the pickups carried a Royal Thai Police Region One windscreen sticker, he said. Five more pickups, reported to also be heading for jungle camps in southern Thailand, eluded police.
It is believed that the Rohingya who were apprehended yesterday came off two boats that are thought to have landed on the coast of Thailand several days ago.
The maze of mangrove-enclosed islands along the coast off Ranong and Phang Nga provinces makes hiding a large number of people without detection relatively easy.
The two pickups - one carrying Phuket numberplates - were pulled over as they headed south towards the holiday island.
Held on suspicion of trafficking in the first vehicle were Kanong Oakdee, 49, and Jerapa Paramee, 32. Driving the second vehicle, which bore a police windscreen sticker, was Panmani Nunin, 39.
It is believed their destination was further south in Songhla or Satun provinces, where human traffickers are known to maintain holding camps in plantations and jungle for Rohingya and Bangladeshi boatpeople.
Traffickers usually demand 60,000 baht to smuggle each person into Malaysia and beat those who fail to succeed in imploring relatives or friends to pay the ransom.
The first pickup pulled over yesterday contained a man and a woman in the cabin with eight Rohingya, and five more boatpeople in the pickup tray. In the second vehicle were a driver and 19 Rohingya.
The Rohingya are being held at Kuraburi Police Station and will probably be handed over to Immigration authorities today. Questioning of the Thai suspects will go on.
According to sources, the flow of Rohingya escaping violence and state-sanctioned ethnic cleansing in Burma's Rakhine state continues and is likely to increase as the monsoons end and the safer ''sailing season'' commences in October.
It's considered improbable that large numbers of boatpeople could be travelling by sea then through southern Thailand without the knowledge or active assistance of outlaws in uniform.
On December 26 last year, Phuketwan journalists interviewed Rohingya and Bangladeshis among a boatload of men, women and children apprehended near Kuraburi the previous day. Some of the men bore scars from recent beatings.
The boatpeople claimed they were handed over to human traffickers by the Burmese Navy. The traffickers killed 12 people and abused others, the survivors said.
Declaration of Interest: In July next year, Phuketwan journalists Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian face trial over criminal defamation and Computer Crimes Act charges brought by the Royal Thai Navy, citing a 41-word paragraph from a Pulitzer prize-winning Reuters report on the Rohingya boatpeople. Reuters and other news organisations in Thailand that published the same paragraph have not been charged. The charges were laid before the military takeover in Thailand.