Missing long-necks believed abducted

Police suspect human traffickers involved

CHEEWIN SATTHA & THEERAWAT KHAMTHITA

MAE HONG SON : The provincial governor is setting up an inquiry into the disappearance of 11 long-neck Karen people, who were allegedly abducted from their villages last week.

Mae Hong Son governor Thongchai Wongrieanthong said yesterday the inquiry panel would seek cooperation from neighbouring provinces in investigating the whereabouts of the missing people, also known as Padaung.

It was possible they were taken by a human trafficking gang.

The governor acted after he received a letter from Chote Naramonthon, chairman of the Lanna tourism alliance network in Mae Hong Son, asking for help in finding the missing people.

Mr Chote criticised local police for their inaction. He said human trafficking was harming the tourism industry in Mae Hong Son.

The Karen disappeared from Huay Sua Tao and Huay Pukaeng villages in Muang district last Friday.

Ampon Uonjai, tribal superviser to the two villages, says long-neck people have been abducted for money before.

Of the 11 missing people, seven are adults and four are children.

Pol Lt-Col Worapoj Puttawong, Nam Pieng Din police station chief, said every checkpoint on the No.108 Mae Hong Son-Mae Sariang-Hot highway and the No.1095 Mae Hong Son-Pai-Mae Taeng highway had been alrted to intercept suspected human traffickers.

The two highways were believed to be major people-smuggling routes.

Cooperation had also been sought from Chiang Mai provincial police, Pol Lt-Col Worapoj said, in case the missing people should turn up at popular tourist spots in the second city.

In previous known cases of long-neck Karen being abducted, they have been put to work in unofficial shows or fake long-neck villages for fee-paying tourists.

It has been alleged that some police officers have aided the people-smugglers in return for large sums of money.

Samran Korsuk, 50, a souvenir vendor in Mae Hong Son, said he has seen a dramatic dip in tourist arrivals.

Holidaymakers no longer bother travelling long distances on rural roads to see the long-neck people.

They could now see them in more mainstream tourist destinations elsewhere.

Chiang Rai tourist police inspector Pol Maj Pattanchai Pamornpiboon said those in control of the people-smuggling operations ran their businesses from Sattahip and Pattaya in Chon Buri and ordered the abduction of tribespeople to take part in tourist shows, investigations had revealed.

Chiang Rai police are also seeking help from their neighbouring forces to track down the missing Karen people.

Bangkok Post