''I am doing this for Thailand,'' the Director of Takuapa District, Manit Pleantong, said today. ''Everybody around the world knows that human trafficking takes place through Thailand.
''We have to fix it. These traffickers and destroying Thailand and its reputation.'' Khun Manit is inviting other district chiefs to join the anti-human-trafficking campaign.
His principled stand has already produced results. In a reversal of the usual approach, local police yesterday issued a formal written declaration that 81 boatpeople, like a previous group of 53 from the same boat, are all victims of human trafficking.
Thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshi boatpeople are believed to have been deposited along Thailand's Andaman Sea coast over the past five years and trucked in secret to trafficker's camps in southern Thailand, without hindrance.
Once in the camps, relatives pay ransoms to have the captives transferred across the border to Malaysia - but not before some of the victims are tortured or raped, or die needlessly from the appalling primitive conditions.
Although the 134 men and boys apprehended two weeks ago have now been declared human trafficking victims, the fate of about 176 people from the same vessel, trucked south before their rescue, is not known.
Witnesses have come forward to tell Khun Manit that the fishing trawler that brought them all south from Cox's Bazaar was later sunk off the Thai coast, not far from Takuapa. The site has been pinpointed.
All the rescued human trafficking victims are now being transferred from the community hall in Takuapa to shelters run by the Social Development and Human Security Ministry.
The Bangladeshi citizens among them will be flown home as soon as possible, a spokesperson for the Bangladesh embassy in Bangkok said yesterday. Before that happens, officials will check each man's background and verify individual accounts to determine whether they were kidnapped or induced to seek better jobs.
The Bangladesh embassy's Minister (Consular), Muhammad Ehteshamul Hoque, travelled to Takuapa with Ministry of Foriegn Affairs officials and officers from the Department of Special Investigation to interview the men and boys.
''It's plain that these people have been deceived and exploited,'' he told Phuketwan. ''With everyone's help, we can make some progress towards stopping this problem.''
He said he was pleased to hear ''the seriousness in the tone'' of anti-trafficking comments made by Khun Manit and the Governor of Phang Nga, Prayoon Rattanaseri.
The Bangladeshi boatpeople would be transferred first to Bangkok and then flown home, Mr Hoque said. Police from the country's Criminal Investigations Department will question the men on return to try to trace the traffickers.
''We are trying to combat this problem,'' he said. ''In February we arrested some traffickers, including Thais and Rohingya.''
He said that if Thailand's Department of Special Investigation wanted to pursue the issue, it could be possible for DSI officers to interview the traffickers being held in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh had established coast guards and border guards in special camps near the coast to check whether fishing boats are genuine or carrying people in their holds, he said.
''These people must be discouraged,'' Mr Hoque said. ''Bangladesh has an agreement with Malaysia to officially supply labor.''
Earlier this year, Thailand was relegated to Tier 3, the lowest level, in the US State Department's Trafficking in Persons report.
Most countries take about three years to persuade US officials that attitudes have changed and that real effort is being made to obliterate human trafficking.