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Anti-trafficking district chief Manit Pleantong wins praise from religious leaders

Thailand's Trafficking Transformation Heroes Rewarded North of Phuket

Tuesday, June 16, 2015
PHUKET: Dignitaries and hundreds of local residents turned out at a ceremony in a village mosque north of Phuket today to celebrate the real heroes of Thailand's anti-human trafficking transformation.

Last year, while authorities in Bangkok dithered with committees to investigate what needed to change in the wake of the US State Department downgrading Thailand to Tier 3 - the lowest level - in the Trafficking in Persons report, a handful of people at grassroots level generated a moral uprising.

Such a revolt against evil was never going to be easy.

In deciding that Thailand had to stop condoning human trafficking, the good people had to overcome years of pretence, deceit and corruption involving an obscene trade in human beings, many of them stateless and among the world's most deprive people.

In their way stood greed and money. The good people were not deterred.

They coped with the criticism of those who condoned or profited from the trade. They pressed on in the face of criticism and condescention.

They did what so-called law enforcement officers refused to do.

They refused to submit to intimidation from their superiors, to threats that they would lose their jobs or be transferred unless they stopped.

And they won. They won!

In terms of the progress now being made against human trafficking in the whole region, it is difficult to understate the importance of today's awards from the Sheikhul Islam Office, which represents the Muslim religion in Thailand.

Officially, the awards were made for ''helping the human rights of the boatpeople and fighting against human trafficking.''

Looking back, victory over the traffickers seemed unimaginable even 12 months ago.

There was a time when the Andaman holiday coast of Thailand, especially the districts of Takuapa and Kuraburi in the province of Phang Nga, were the gateway to the south for boatloads of Rohingya and later, Bangladeshis.

Trafficking grew and grew because nobody stopped it - not the Royal Thai Navy, not Marine Police, not the Internal Security Operations Command of the Royal Thai Army, not local police.

Between 2009, when Phuketwan and the South China Morning Post newspaper in Hong Kong exposed the inhumane ''pushbacks'' of refugee boats by the Thai military, hundreds of thousands of captives were moved in secret from the Andaman holiday coast to the horror camps of the Thai-Malaysia border.

The TIP report did not stop it. The government of Thailand did not stop it.

While the PR machine in Bangkok announced that everything was coming under control, victims continued to be murdered, raped, tortured in camps on the west coast and in the south of Thailand.

Those who survived were sold for ransom to family and friends - people who often had to sell everything they had or go into debt to find the money for the traffickers.

Yet long before the exposure of the graves of victims in May, the people's uprising of Phang Nga was in full swing.

Today, the heroes of that movement were commended and congratulated by the villagers and by the leaders of the Muslim and Buddhist communities throughout Thailand.

The significant ceremony occurred at Dawadulislam mosque in the village of Baan Bang Klad Nai, north of Phuket.

Representing the Sheikhul Islam Office, Dr Wisut Binlade reinforced the message that trafficking would probably still be continuing if not for the people's revolt in Phang Nga.

Perhaps preeminent among the award winners is Manit Pleantong, the district chief of Takuapa - Phuketwan's Person of the Year 2014.

From October last year, he set up a 24-hour roadblock checkpoint, manned by volunteers, north of Takuapa, the route usually taken by traffickers carrying their cargoes south in pickups.

As well as telling locals in a weekly radio broadcast that the trafficking had to stop for Thailand's sake, Khun Manit led his volunteers in raids to apprehend boatpeople - something other local law enforcers were not bothering to do.

As a result, for the first time in Thailand, some boatpeople were declared to be victims of human trafficking, not simply illegal migrants.

As illegal migrants, the boatpeople could easily be trucked back to the Thai-Burma border - and inevitably recycled into the traffickers' system.

Already experienced with boatpeople and a willing ally in imposing international standards is another award winner, Dararat ''Boo'' Suthed, who with the staff at the Phang Nga Family Shelter in Khao Lak, tried to prevent women and children ''going over the wall'' into the hands of traffickers.

With help from NGOs, she assisted some of the children and families to find new homes in third countries.

Some others in similar shelters tried to avoid any contact with boatpeople because of the extra effort needed to understand their problems and provide proper aid.

Khun Boo's contribution to changing attitudes and to helping impose international standards was outstanding, despite the criticism.

Down south in Hat Yai, Thailand's Immigration Division 6 Commander, Police Major General Thatchai Pitaneelaboot, had been conducting raids on jungle camps that mostly came up empty, except for discarded boatpeople. He was determined to change the system - and he opened the door to media when apprehending boatpeople and hundreds of Uighurs from China.

Another awards winner, the Governor of Phang Nga, Prayoon Rattanaseni, gave his support to the grassroots movement and deflected pressure from Bangkok authorities to continue the old coverup system. Under that method, nothing needed to be done because there was no problem. Even some high-ups believed that was the way to proceed.

The village leader in Takuapa's Moo 5, Chertchai Pattamayatanon, was among the first to realise the sense in ending the ''cottage industry'' that gave traffickers impunity against arrest and punishment. He was another award winner.

So was another village leader, Somkon Jandang, along with the senior officer of Phang Nga, Thanikorn Mukiwat, and Kompat Sampaorat, who led a long line of volunteers in receiving certificates for their efforts in turning Thailand around against trafficking.

With speeches, applause and smiles for the good people and their moral revolution, it was a proud day. And perhaps even a new beginning for the whole country.

Comments

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Dear Ed

In some of my posts to previous stories I made the point that both Muslims and Buddhists have been both victims and villains in relation to human trafficking and slavery in the wider geographical area of Thailand.

My guess is that heroes come from a variety of different faiths too?

I hope that anyone thinking of conducting any type of Holy war in relation to human trafficking would recognize first that villains, victims and heroes come from all faiths.

Posted by Ian Yarwood on June 16, 2015 15:15

Editor Comment:

The poverty stricken Bangladeshis and the stateless Rohingya are all Muslims. In our experience, it becomes easier for people in authority to play the religious card in relation to treatment. We know what the problem is in Burma. The problem in Thailand is that too many people in uniform take their lead from their Burmese peers. If the boatpeople were Buddhists, they would not be treated this way in Thailand. Burmese Buddhists are sometimes mistreated, but not on this scale. Thailand has never attempted to solve the Rohingya problem at its source, instead by doing nothing, virtually condoning Burma's ethnic cleansing.

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K Manit is a ray of sunshine in an otherwise dark sky.

Posted by Mister Ree on June 16, 2015 19:35

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Great story and very well written too.

Khun Manit and Khun Boo and all the volunteers who disrupted the traffickers are people we can all be proud of.

(I did send an earlier post in praise of these heroes but I guess it disappeared into cyberspace)

Posted by Ian Yarwood on June 16, 2015 22:15

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Khun Manit and Khun Boo are real heroes from the real life!

Their conduct is even more astonishment giving that they had to operate in the "spiders in the can" environment

I would like to attract attention of PW, that there is not less amazing conduct of the local police in Nakon Si Thamarrat , that has been reported by the NGO FreeLand on 05.05.2015. about history of detaining many state officers in the South - giving that LOCAL police, not a top organized crime suppression agencies from Bangkok, on its initiative contacted the foreign NGO to get a technical assistance on such dangerous for their carriers and lives ,case, I think deserve closer attention

Also recent news that local police station in Songhkla issued arrest warrant for Gen Manat, warrants closer attention as this is not less courageous and risky step for them.


http://www.freeland.org/#!new-details-on-rohingya-case-reveal-hope/ceoi


Freeland Foundation was contacted by Thai Police in Nakon Srithammarat in mid January to provide technical assistance with analyzing telephones seized from suspected traffickers. The request followed the police's discovery of a clever and systematic kidnapping scheme targeting Rohingya in Myanmar.


Between January and March, Freeland helped police analyze numbers extracted from the traffickers' phones. Using the telephone data, police were then able to generate an ''i-2 telephone link chart'', allowing detectives to narrow their investigation. They used the phone data to eventually focus in on Myanmar citizen Soe Naing Anwar and several of his Thai connections. Today Thai Police announced the arrest of Anwar, as well as two politicians from the south of Thailand.

''What is impressive about this case is that it started with local police - not specialized federal cops - and these local police reached out immediately for technical assistance and cooperation, which led to quick progress,'' remarked Steven Galster, Director of Freeland. Hua Sai and Nakhon Srithamarat police initiated the case, and police from Regions 8 and 9 cooperated throughout.

''While a lot has been said about Thailand's performance battling human trafficking, this case demonstrates their capacity to take on transnational syndicates when they want to, and the ability to admit to past mistakes,'' he added, referring to past denials about Rohingya being trafficked into Thailand. ''We should all applaud Thailand for discovering and stopping this horror and encourage them to do more of the same.''

Posted by Sue on June 17, 2015 05:57

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Brilliant ! Congratulations !

But why can't I find a single person willing to listen to this story (in my immediate vicinity) ? Just disapproving looks ...

Posted by James on June 17, 2015 09:18


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