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Manhunt launched for traffickers, six escaped refugee caught

Legacy Phuket Gazette



PHUKET: Officers in Phang Nga have launched a manhunt for 300 people reportedly being herded through the area by gun-toting human traffickers.

The search began after two men presented themselves at a checkpoint in Takuapa before dawn on Sunday claiming that they had fled their armed captors.

“The men said that they had fled a camp where they were being held under armed guard, along with 300 other people, including women and children. Everyone was waiting to be transported to southern Thailand,” said Takuapa District chief Manit Pianthong

Both men claimed to be from Myanmar and said that they were being brought through Thailand to Malaysia in where they hoped to find better jobs and better lives, Mr Manit told the Phuket Gazette today.

“Officers searched the area, but found no traces of any large camps,” Mr Manit confirmed, adding that he had requested assistance from officials in neighboring districts to help with the search.

“Both men have been remanded in custody at the Takuapa District Office for further questioning. We are checking whether or not they are really victims of human trafficking.

“If they are not, we will send them to Ranong and deport them to Myanmar.”

Meanwhile, six of the 10 men who broke out of the Phang Nga Immigration detention center early yesterday morning have been caught and returned to the facility.

“Now we are looking for the rest,” Capt Parinya Sriboonsom, deputy inspector of Phang Nga Immigration, told the Gazette today.

Officers at the center didn’t know that the three Rohingya and seven Bangladeshi men had escaped until about 2:20am, Capt Parinya said.

“The refugees climbed through the ceiling of a bathroom on the second floor and used a rope made from pieces of cloth to lower themselves to the ground outside the detention center,” he explained.

The 10 men fled the same large room at the center where about 70 other men are being detained.

“One team of officers caught two of them in a palm plantation, about two kilometers from the center, at about 4:30pm yesterday,” Capt Parinya said.

“Another team of officers caught two others in a mangrove forest, about four kilometers away, at about 5pm. The last two we caught were apprehended about 500m from the same mangrove forest at 3:20pm today.”

Capt Parinya explained that the escape was made possible because officers searched the detention hall only once a week.

“We are thinking about searching the detainees and the hall more often, and we will look into what else can be done to prevent refugees from escaping in the future,” he said.

Capt Parinya urged anyone who sees any suspected refugees at large to immediately call Phang Nga Immigration at 076-460512.

Additional reporting by Khumpee Prasertphol

— Chutharat Plerin


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