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Thailand convicts senior military general in Songkhla mass graves case

By Elizabeth Shim
Thailand convicts senior military general in Songkhla mass graves case
Thai soldiers secure the area next to shelters after discovering an abandoned jungle camp in Songkhla province, southern Thailand, in May 2015. Dozens of defendants were found guilty in the case of migrant deaths on Wednesday. File Photo by STR/EPA

July 19 (UPI) -- Thailand has convicted perpetrators of human trafficking, including a high-ranking military general, after more than two-dozen bodies were discovered in 2015.

Sentences for more than 100 defendants began on Wednesday, including 21 government officials, The Guardian reported.

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The trial was a grueling all-day affair that began at 8:30 a.m., with some defendants arriving as early as 6 a.m., according to The Bangkok Post.

More than 60 people brought to trial were found guilty of holding migrants in forcible detention, human trafficking, rape, and abetting regional criminal networks.

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Lt. Gen. Manus Kongpan, the highest profile defendant, was found guilty of multiple human trafficking charges, and a wealthy businessman, Patchuban Angchotipan, who went by the nickname "Big Brother Tor," was found guilty of trafficking children under 15.

The buried bodies uncovered more than two years ago in Songkhla, southern Thailand, may have been the remnant of a jungle camp, where migrants were held prisoners for ransom.

A refugee crisis in the region at the time was pushing the persecuted Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Myanmar, into Thailand, where smugglers used them as hostages or slave laborers.

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The refugees and migrants often paid smugglers to reach Thailand, but upon arrival were confined to bamboo pens while captors demanded ransom from the victims' families.

Prisoners were threatened with death, if families did not pay a sum roughly equivalent to $2,970-4,750, according to The Guardian.

The trial was a difficult process in Thailand, according to Fortify Rights, a NGO in Southeast Asia.

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While the case "marks an unprecedented effort by Thai authorities to hold perpetrators of human trafficking accountable, the trial was beset by unchecked threats against witnesses, interpreters, and police investigators," the group said.

In neighboring Malaysia, following the grave discovery in Thailand, more than 100 bodies were found in mass graves across 20 camps.

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