BANGKOK, Thailand -- The American Embassy welcomed the arrest of a
Thai army general on charges "related to migrant smuggling, abuses,
trafficking" and other crimes after President Obama and the U.S. State
Department voiced support for Myanmar's victimized Muslim Rohingyas.

When heavy-set Lt. Gen. Manas Kongpan, 58, turned himself in on June
3, police charged him with human trafficking, illegal detention, and
assisting foreigners to illegally enter Thailand.

"After eight hours interrogation at a police station in Songkhla
province last night, police decided to charge him with nine more
offenses, including concealment of dead bodies, physical assault, and
conspiring in a transnational crime, police say," Khaosod's English
news site reported on June 4.

Lt. Gen. Manas, detained without bail on June 4, is the highest
official to be arrested and linked to deadly Asian trafficking
syndicates, sparking optimism that Bangkok's coup-installed military
regime is cracking down on the gangs.

Police arrested more than 51 others on the same 13 charges --
including local police and politicians -- and are hunting 32 more on
outstanding warrants in connection with human trafficking.

Their cases are linked to the so-called "death camps" where
authorities discovered at least 36 bodies in May in southern Thailand
near the border with Malaysia.

Weeks later, Malaysia found similar makeshift confinement camps in a
nearby northern jungle on Malaysia's side of the frontier, and
retrieved 139 corpses.

The dead on both sides of the border are widely believed to be ethnic
Rohingya and Bengali Muslims who have been fleeing racial and
religious persecution in Myanmar and dire poverty in Bangladesh for
the past several years.

Police allegedly discovered bank records from another accused
trafficker which showed thousands of dollars were transferred to Lt.
Gen. Manas.

The three-star general denied all charges of wrongdoing and reportedly
said he won the money while gambling on a local bull fight.

U.S. Embassy Charge d'Affaires W. Patrick Murphy tweeted on June 4:
"We welcome reports [that] Thai police issued arrest warrants, incl
for sr military officer related to #migrant smuggling, abuses,

"We continue to engage with the Government of #Thailand to strengthen
its efforts to combat #migrant smuggling & #humantrafficking," the
U.S. envoy said.

Five years ago, when Lt. Gen. Manas was a colonel, he belonged to
Thailand's powerful and much-feared Internal Security Operations
Command (ISOC), heading their secretive mission in the south against
traffickers by monitoring and intercepting minority ethnic Rohingyas
and other illegal foreign migrants.

"He has worked well. As far as I know, he is dedicated in his works,"
the junta's Defence Minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan told reporters when
Lt. Gen. Manas was arrested.

"He has done a lot of work for the country," Gen. Prawit said. "He is
still only an accused."

Many Rohingyas and Bengalis paid smugglers to send them by overcrowded
boats across the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea to Muslim-majority
Malaysia, hoping to find sanctuary and jobs.

But many migrants were instead sold to ruthless traffickers who then
extorted additional ransom payments from their victims while torturing
and confining them in jungle camps constructed from wood, bamboo and
barbed wire.

International human rights groups and other investigators said corrupt
officials in all four countries were involved in the lucrative

"I think if I were a Rohingya, I would want to stay where I was born,"
President Obama replied to a Thai teenager who asked him at a White
House reception where he would prefer to live if he were a Rohingya.

"But I would want to make sure my government was protecting me and
that people were treating me fair," President Obama said on June 2.

"Rohingyas need to be treated as citizens of Burma," U.S. Assistant
Secretary of State Anne Richard told journalists on June 3 in

"They need to have identity cards and passports that make clear they
are as much citizens of Burma as anyone else," Ms. Richard said.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, regards its Rohingyas as illegal
immigrants from Bangladesh and renders them stateless, mostly confined
to squalid camps.

American actor Matt Dillon visited southwest Myanmar's Rakhine state
on June 1 where most Rohingyas live, and said their apartheid-style
camps were horrific evidence of the racial and religious persecution
they endure in the Buddhist-majority country.

"No one should have to live like this, people are really suffering.
They are being strangled slowly," Mr. Dillon told reporters.

"It feels more like the people are going to be left to wither away and die."