The Times February 5th 1998
Thai police free tribal captives in ‘human zoo’.
Inquiry begins after Times campaign forces closure of ‘tourist attraction’, Andrew Drummond reports
ARMED police and local militia raided a remote village in northern Thailand yesterday and released 33 people from a Burmese Padaung hill tribe of long-necked women, who had been kept in captivity for 18 months as a tourist attraction.
Two months after The Times exposed conditions in the ‘human zoo’ near Thaton on the Thai-Burmese border, the local governor, prompted by a demand for an investigation by the Thai Prime Minister’s office, served a search warrant on the kidnappers of the tribal people and shut down the camp.
Tourists, including Britons and Swedes, who had paid to visit the village, stood aghast as the convoy rolled into the camp soon after midday. But the Padaung people had their bags packed in 15 minutes and left the houses they had to build for themselves.
Last night police in Chiang Mai ordered an investigation into the conduct of Thana Nakluang, a Thai businessman, and Rakkiat Siriwilai, his deputy, with a view to prosecution for kidnapping and illegal detention.
Police Colonel Samnieng Wongsinh said: ‘The country’s image has been damaged by these events and the perpetrators should be punished.’
Of the 33 rescued, 20 were children, including a six-day-old baby. Two women and a baby died at the camp. The captives were not allowed to seek medical attention and were beaten if they complained to tourists.
The Thaton camp, in the sub-district of Mai Ai, had been running for more than a year before a tourist considered that something might be wrong. The Padaung managed to get a message via him to relatives in refugee camps in Mae Hong Son, 200 miles away, in a tape recording.
The Thai authorities were repeatedly begged for help by the Karenni Refugee Committee, but it was not until The Times took up the case that Bangkok took notice.
District police and officials, ordered to investigate, were found to be under the influence of local businessmen.
Two weeks ago Ladawan Wongsiwong, deputy secretary general in the office of Chuan Leekpai, the Prime Minister, went to the camp.
After listening to the women’s stories and being threatened with a bayonet by a guard, she instigated yesterday’s raid.
Sudarat Sereewat, who assisted The Times and reported to Ms Ladawan, personally supervised the release.
(Picture above: Thana Nakluang reads an order closing the camp)
She said: ‘Justice will only be done when the people who committed these inhumanities are brought to justice. That means prosecuting the criminals and moving against those authorities who allowed this atrocity.’
The Times February 5th 1998