| By SAW YAN NAING - IRRAWADDY.ORG ||Thursday, August 14, 2008|
Burmese authorities have arrested hundreds of people and shut down several hotels in the border town of Kawthaung as part of a continuing effort to curtail human trafficking into Thailand, according to local sources.
Around 200 would-be illegal migrants have been arrested each day in Kawthaung, opposite the Thai town of Ranong, according to the sources. At least six hotels have been closed for their alleged involvement in human smuggling.
A source close to Burmese officials said that Maj-Gen Khin Zaw Oo, the military commander of Tenasserim Division, ordered the closure of the hotels, including the Shwe Kawthaung, Han and Htun Taunt hotels, two days ago.
Two men suspected of involvement in human smuggling activities were also arrested on Wednesday, the source added.
Most of those arrested were sent back to their places of origin, according to Maung Tu, a Kawthaung resident, who noted that the authorities have become increasingly stringent about monitoring population movements in the area.
“Even if a relative comes to visit us, we have to file a full report with the authorities,” he said.
Kawthaung is one of the main border crossing points used by Burmese migrant workers looking for jobs in neighboring Thailand. Around 500 people illegally enter Thailand’s Ranong Province from Kawthaung each day, say local residents.
Despite the recent anti-human trafficking campaign, human smugglers continue to help hundreds leave the country on a daily basis, said one resident who questioned the effectiveness of the recent crackdown.
Efforts to stem human trafficking in Kawthaung have increased since April, when 54 Burmese migrant workers suffocated to death in a container truck while being transported to the Thai resort island of Phuket.
Burma’s ruling military regime has often been accused of failing to prevent the exploitation of its citizens by human smuggling rings. A US State Department report released in June 2007 said the regime has not done enough to stop human trafficking, particularly of women and children.
The report said that a growing number of Burmese women and children face sexual exploitation, forced labor and indentured servitude as street beggars as they leave the country in search of work.
There were about 740,000 migrant workers from Burma registered with Thailand’s Department of Employment in 2006. An estimated 1 million Burmese migrant workers are believed to be working without permits in Thailand.
Meanwhile, Burmese authorities arrested 385 drug traffickers—317 men and 68 women—in July, according to the state-run New Light of Myanmar on Wednesday.