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Thai and Burmese delegates gather at a human trafficking summit

Trafficking? 'No Rohingya in Burma'

Tuesday, August 5, 2014
PHUKET: Thailand and Burma (Myanmar) are making a sustained effort to jointly reduce the amount of human trafficking, a conference was told today on Phuket, with Thai police to operate soon from inside Burma.

Colonel Khemarin Hasasiri, Deputy Commander of the Foreign Affairs Division and once a member of the Thai Tsunami Victim Identification team, will be posted to Yangon from next month.

The Thailand-Myanmar Bilateral Meeting on Strengthening Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Co-operation in Combating Trafficking in Persons brought together a team of about 10 people from Burma, with two observers, and a similar group from Thailand.

The meeting took place at the Cape Panwa Hotel on Phuket's east coast at the same time as a second meeting was being convened in Bangkok to examine migrant labor.

Thailand was dropped to Tier 3, the lowest level, in this year's US State Department Trafficking in Persons report, while Burma remains on Tier 2.

In December, boatpeople among a newly-arrived group of 139 men, women and children told Phuketwan reporters in Kuraburi, north of Phuket, that the Burmese Navy had handed them over to people smugglers who killed 12 and savagely beat many others.

Phuketwan had no way of verifying the account, but it's not the first time that boatpeople have alleged mistreatment at the hands of the Burmese military, or the first account of official collusion with smugglers or traffickers.

The head of the Thai delegation, Lieutenant General M. L. Pansak Kasemsant, said: ''We don't know whether Thailand will be on Tier 3 next year but we have to try our hardest.''

He and the head of the Burmese delegation, Police Brigadier General Win Naing Tun, agreed that progress had been made through bilateral meetings so far.

When asked whether officials in Burma or Thailand could confirm that 80,000 boatpeople had sailed south from Burma since violence broke out in Rakhine state in mid-2012, Lieutenant General Pansak questioned that figure and said he doubted a number of that size was possible.

When the word ''Rohingya'' was used in a question, Brigadier General Win said there were no ''Rohingya'' in Burma ''but we do have a minority group from a neighboring country.''

''It is a sensitive issue and it could affect both countries,'' he added.

Both men agreed that the issues of Burma's boatpeople and human trafficking were becoming more transparent, with the International Organisation for Migration and the UNHCR refugee agency now involved in monitoring.

Lieutenant General Pansak said he had recently visited the US to explain what the Thai government was doing about human trafficking.

He added that the Royal Thai Navy's court action against Phuketwan journalists was ''a personal matter, not involving the Thai government.''

He said he could not explain why the Navy chose to sue Phuketwan but neglected to prosecute several Thai mainstream news outlets which republished the same contentious paragraph from the Reuters news agency.

''Better you ask the Royal Thai Navy why they didn't sue other Thai media,'' he said.

The paragraph was part of a series of articles that later won Reuters a prestigious Pulitzer Prize for its work on the Rohingya boatpeople.

The number of boats carrying Rohingya and Bangladeshis south has diminished through June and July but an increase is expected as the monsoon seas become safer.

Most boats usually take to the water between October and April.

The trial of journalists Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian on allegations of criminal defamation and a count under the Computer Crimes Act continues on Phuket in March next year.

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