(dpa) - Thai police promised Thursday to round up a human-trafficking gang responsible for the death of 54 illegal Myanmar labourers who suffocated while being transported in a container truck to the resort island of Phuket.
A 10-wheel container truck, usually used for transporting frozen fish, was found by police early Thursday, abandoned on a small road near Suksamlan village, about 450 kilometres south of Bangkok, with 120 Myanmar nationals inside, 54 of whom were dead.
"We know which human-trafficking gang is behind this incident and we will round up their network," said Ranong Police Chief Major General Apirak Hongthong.
The dead included 37 women and 17 men. Another 21 were hospitalized, and the remaining 46 were arrested by police for entering Thailand illegally.
Survivors told police they were from Victoria Point Island in Myanmar, and had boarded the truck in Ranong to be taken to Phuket and other provinces to look for work.
About half an hour after leaving Ranong, the Myanmar nationals, who were packed in so tightly that they could only stand up, contacted the truck driver by hand phone and complained of the heat and lack of oxygen.
When several of them fainted the driver finally stopped the vehicle and opened the door to the container. When he saw that several of the Burmese had died, he fled the scene.
The owner of the truck, who turned himself in, is expected to face charges, as will the driver, Apirak said.
The Ranong police chief admitted that human trafficking was common in the province, which neighbours Myanmar to the west.
Thailand has a huge population of illegal Myanmar labourers who are commonly employed on fishing trawlers, plantations and construction sites.
Although Thai authorities provide work papers for some of the Myanmar labourers, the vast majority work in the country illegally, subject to arrest and vulnerable to abuse by their employers.