This file photo taken on June 3, 2015 shows Thai Army Lieutenant General Manas Kongpan (center) surrounded by police officers as he turns himself in at the police headquarters in Bangkok. The general was found guilty of human trafficking on July 19. (Photo by Nicolas Asfouri/AFP)
A court in Thailand has convicted more than 60 people, including a senior general, following a landmark human trafficking trial involving 102 defendants.
The trial stemmed from the discovery of graves of Rohingya Muslims and Bangladeshis found in a makeshift camp in a forest near the Malaysian border in 2015.
Lieutenant-general Manas Kongpan was sentenced to 27 years in jail for human trafficking, while another senior official, Patjuban Aungkachotephan (also known as Ko-Tong) was handed 75 years for receiving trafficked persons and sending them to Malaysia.
Sixty-two people were convicted in Bangkok of trafficking Bangladeshis and Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar. Forty people were acquitted.
Sentences ranged from four to 94 years.
Manas, who held a key security post in Thailand's southern border areas, took part in the smuggling of Rohingya and illegal migrants, the court ruled.
"The defendant number 54 [Manas], instead of pushing back or denying entry to those Rohingya migrants, cooperated with the human traffickers, unduly taking benefits from the trafficking ring," a judge ruled.
Banjong Pongpol (alias Ko Jong), a former local official in a sub-district in Thailand's Songkhla province and who was sentenced to 79 years, arranged the transfer of migrants to relatives in Malaysia after a payment of between 30,000 (US$892) and 150,000 baht, the court said. Those unable to pay were tortured or killed, court officials said.
Soe Naing, a Rohingya man identified as the chief trafficker, received 94 years.
Rights groups welcomed the verdicts.
"Today's verdict is a major step in efforts to combat human trafficking in Thailand, now that we see the convictions of a senior army general, local politicians, influential tycoons and others complicit in trafficking of Rohingya," Benar News quoted Sunai Phasuk of Human Rights Watch as saying.
"This should send a strong message that regardless of their status and affiliation, no one is above the law."