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BP: Crossing the line
Bangkok Post May 17, 1998
Crossing the line
Flesh-smuggling gangs are taking
young women and girls - sometimes
against their will - across Thailand's
southern border to work as prostitutes
Visitors to a para rubber plan tation in the Sadao district of
Songkhla don't find it par ticularly strange to see a dozen or so
young girls walking by. They seem to be locals, perhaps chil dren
of para rubber farmers. "They must be taking a break from a
hard day's work," the visitors assume.
Not so, say police authorities. To them the presence of these
seemingly innocent young women in this remote location is a
telltale sign of at least one crime ring of international scale.
The last stop: Until recently, the police paid scant attention to
Baan Nam Hua. Now, however, this sleepy village on the
Malaysian border is a marked location on their crime map.
According to authorities, this part of Songkhla is now the "last
stop" for girls sent to Malaysia to work as pros titutes.
Not all are Thai; there are also Burmese, Chinese, Laotian and
Khmer girls. Some know that they are going to work in brothels
in Malaysia or elsewhere. Others, however, naive ly believe that
they are going abroad to work as housekeepers, restaurant
workers or nannies.
A police investigation revealed that organised gangs of smugglers
bring in two or three girls at a time to the village, where they are
sheltered in huts.
"Once they have a sufficient amount of 'goods' [a dozen or more
girls], or if the timing is right, they will take the girls out of the
village and cross the border to Malaysia," a police investigator
told Sunday Perspective.
The back door: From their tempo rary shelters, the girls are
herded by the smugglers down the only road - a cart track, to be
more precise - out of the village. Nine kilometres south of the
village, the girls reach the Thai- Malaysian border.
Police revealed that they had dis covered an opening in the
barbed wire fence which separates Thailand from Malaysia. And
at the Kilometre 17/52 marker, a simple iron gate has been
installed, apparently by the gangs themselves, either to cover the
hole in the fence or - more likely - for convenience's sake.
Last week Sunday Perspective trav eled along the smuggler's
route lead ing out of Baan Nam Hua. (See map and pictures)
After two weeks of gathering data in various southern border
areas, Sunday Perspective found that Baan Nam Hua is not the
only stopover point for flesh-smuggling gangs. Both government
and non-government sources told of particular houses in the
Sadao and Hat Yai districts as well as in the provincial town of
Songkhla which are used for housing women on their way into
the sex in dustry.
Baan Nam Hua, with its trail and gate, is probably the busiest
spot for the smugglers.
"Once or twice in recent months, I have heard people talk of
'goods' get ting out through there," one resident of Baan Nam
Hua told Sunday Per spective, referring to the opening at
Fellow villagers told similar stories.
Several claim to have witnessed as many as 30 girls at a time
being es corted to the unofficial border-cross ing. The also
confirmed that the young women are of varying Asian ethnicities.
"Most of them are Thais," one said, but not all.
According to an inside source, Ma laysian gang members wait
on the other side of the border, ready to re ceive the "goods".
They pay the Thai recruiters between 150,000 and 300,000
baht a head.
"The price is not only based on the 'quality' of the girls but also
on their nationalities," the source said. "Hill tribe girls and
Burmese girls are more expensive than Thai girls."
Non-Thais are in greater demand because they are more easily
con trolled by the gangs. "These girls are less familiar with the
region and so it is less likely that they will be able to escape,"
said the source.
The girls' fate: Once on the Malay sian side, the traffickers
"examine their merchandise", classifying them in different grades
according to their physical characteristics.
Those considered most attractive are sent to Western countries
such as Australia and the US as well as to Japan and Brunei. The
"second- grade" girls are taken to Hong Kong or Singapore or
kept in Malaysia.
Wherever they end up, their fate is the same.
"I don't care much about where the girls go provided they
prostitute themselves willingly," a police officer told Sunday
"But, for the innocent, the experi ence is like being in hell. They
be come something worse than slaves," said the officer, who
took part in a recent raid on a Kuala Lumpur broth el with
Malaysian police .
A hell for innocents: In that opera tion, the joint
Thai-Malaysian police force found 35 Thai girls and two hill tribe
girls locked up behind bars on the third floor of a restaurant.
"They spent their days in that tiny place like canned fish and were
served barely-edible food," he said.
The girls were not allowed to leave their rooms except to receive
cus tomers. "All of the girls were crying when we broke in. Each
one told of brutal beatings when they refused to work. All of the
girls were in poor health.
"Every one of them said that life was hell. They spoke of nothing
but going back home to see their fam ilies," the officer said.
These girls are lucky. Hundreds - even thousands - of girls
remain be hind locked doors.
A report prepared by the Opera tions Unit of the Coordinating
Centre for the Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution and
Child Labour esti mates that there are 2,000 women and girls
forced to work as prostitutes in Malaysia alone.
The recruiters: In the Kuala Lum pur brothel raid Malaysian
police ar rested three Thais and two Malay sians and charged
them with forced prostitution. Perhaps more significantly, as a re
sult of the raid, the name of a Thai- Chinese woman, Linli Lee,
came to the attention of police. It is believed she escaped during
Ms Linli, who is known to be in her 40s, has long been
suspected by Thai intelligence agents of being one of the biggest
recruiters of prostitutes.
"She is one of the major suppliers in Thailand of girls to
Malaysia," a source at the Operations Unit of the Coordinating
Centre for the Preven tion and Suppression of Prostitution and
Child Labour told Sunday Per spective.
Authorities say that Ms Linli and a Malaysian business partner,
identi fied only as "Mr Fu", formerly operat ed a tour agency in
Bangkok as well as a branch office in Songkhla. The company
was a front for their illegal activities, police say.
Police believe that Mr Fu acted as Ms Linli's agent in Malaysia.
An ar rest warrant has been issued in Thai land for Ms Lee. Thai
authorities are trying to learn more about the myste rious Mr Fu.
Police say that Ms Linli hired sev eral people to recruit girls in
villages in the Northeast and the North. Those working for her
also contract ed Thai prostitutes to work in foreign countries.
Few know exactly what the bosses' "take" is. It is customary for
the gangs to receive half of what a girl earns. In many cases,
however, the prostitutes receive very little - or nothing at all, say
These girls are those who are "bought" from their parents, or ob
tained as part of a loan agreement with financially strapped
families. The girls are then expected to work off their debt.
Sometimes the girls and their parents are not told the truth about
what kind of work they will be doing.
Gangs such as those headed by Ms Linli use this tactic very
effectively. One by one, the girls are taken from their homes and
led to the border where they are introduced into the sex
Partners in crime: Several hundred metres from the Sadao
border pass in Songkhla there is a small lane off the main road
known among nighttime revellers as the border red light district.
There, more than 200 restaurants, cocktail lounges, karaoke
bars, pubs and nightclubs are open all night. The businesses are
all legal. The own ers have licenses and they pay their taxes.
"You see nothing wrong on the sur face," a police officer from
the Crime Suppression Division told Sunday Perspective.
"However, many of these places offer sex services. This is noth
"However," the police officer add ed, "we have found that some
are involved in flesh smuggling activ ities."
"More often than not, smugglers send out girls with the collusion
of the operators of these entertainment places," he said.
The big fish: Every so often police conduct raids, make arrests
- mostly of the girls - and take the suspects to court where they
And then released.
"The 'big fish' are never arrested," the officer from Bangkok said.
"Thus, the cycle continues."
One such big fish is Amir Hamja, who remains wanted by police
for hu man smuggling.
Born on February 1, 1964, in Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh, Amir
Hamja has lived in Thailand for some time and is married to a
Thai woman, but he has not been naturalised.
Amir Hamja allegedly operates a ring that brings people from the
Indi an subcontinent to work in Malaysia via Thailand. ("War
against flesh smuggling gangs", Sunday Perspec tive, July 13,
Ten months after the warrant for his arrest was issued, Amir
Hamja remains at large. Meanwhile, police investigators recently
learned that he and those working for him have re cently been
supplying girls to flesh- smuggling gangs, a source close to
Sunday Perspective said. "We're sure that the Amir Hamja
gang is connected with the prostitu tion racket," said the source.
The question is asked even among the police themselves: "Why
are the big fish rarely arrested ?"
Police say they know about the ille gal activities of particular
individ uals but are unable to make arrests due to lack of
Some, however, are willing to ad mit that the corrupt behaviour
of some officers plays a large part in the continuing activities of
these big fish.
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Last Modified: Sun, May 17, 1998