6 Thais to be charged in deaths of 54 migrants

/ Source: The Associated Press

Six Thai nationals will be charged with death by negligence after 54 illegal Myanmar migrants suffocated while being smuggled through Thailand in a tiny, locked truck, police said Monday.

The 54 dead were among some 120 job seekers from Myanmar crammed inside the truck, which was abandoned by the driver on April 10 when he noticed passengers dying in the back.

The migrants began suffocating when the air conditioning failed in the vehicle, normally used for transporting seafood.

The migrants had been seeking jobs in the booming resort area of Phuket after being smuggled by boat from their country into the Thai port of Ranong on the Andaman Sea.

Immigration police commander Lt. Gen. Chatchawal Suksomjit said the crime of causing death by negligence carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail for each person that died.

Not enough evidence exists yet to prosecute the six people _ including the truck's driver _ for human trafficking, he said.

Among the 66 survivors, 50 were convicted of illegal entry into Thailand and were still being held. Two were not charged because poor health kept them hospitalized, and 14 were minors who will be returned to Myanmar.

Some survivors will be asked to testify against those involved, said police Col. Kraithong Chanthongbai, adding that an investigation could take up to three months to complete.

The tragedy shed light on the often brutal result of human trafficking and the plight of desperate people in the region.

Prosperous Thailand is a magnet for people from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar who take menial and dangerous jobs shunned by Thais, and face exploitation in their efforts to earn a living. More than 1 million migrants from Myanmar are believed to be working in Thailand.