The trial began in 2015 after a Thai crackdown on trafficking gangs following the gruesome discovery of dozens of shallow graves near the Thai-Malaysia border.
The trial began in 2015 after a Thai crackdown on trafficking gangs following the gruesome discovery of dozens of shallow graves near the Thai-Malaysia border.

A Thai general is among more than 100 defendants facing a verdict Wednesday in a sprawling 2015 human trafficking case which saw thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants abandoned at sea and in jungle death camps.

Thailand's junta launched a crackdown in May that year on a multi-million-dollar network running migrants through southern Thailand and into Malaysia.

It unspooled a crisis across Southeast Asia as gangs abandoned their hungry and desperate human cargo in jungle camps and at sea in overcrowded boats which were then "ping ponged" between Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian waters.

Rights groups long accused officials of ignoring – or even orchestrating – the trade in humans through Thailand's southern provinces.

The belated crackdown revealed a network of military, political and local mafia players soaking up cash from impoverished migrants.

TRT World 's Shamim Chowdhury has this report.

The 103 defendants whose verdicts are being read are accused of offences spanning human trafficking, ransom and murder – a charge that can carry the death penalty.

Army Lieutenant-General Manas Kongpan, a powerful figure in the security apparatus covering the south, is the highest-ranking official on trial.

Death camps

The crisis emerged after Thai officials uncovered dozens of shallow graves in hidden camps dotting the steep hills along the Thai and Malaysian border area.

They revealed the horrors endured by migrants, who were starved and held in bamboo pens by traffickers who demanded ransom for their release.

The government is desperate to dispel the kingdom's notorious reputation for human trafficking and close one of the darkest chapters in the country's recent history.

But critics say the trial has already been marred by witness intimidation, secret evidence hearings and restrictions on media reporting.

Amy Smith, from Fortify Rights, described the trial as "important and unprecedented" but added "Thailand has a long way to go to ensure justice for thousands who were exploited, tortured and killed."

Stateless Rohingya Muslims have fled neighbouring Myanmar in the tens of thousands since sectarian violence flared in 2012.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies