Crackdown on transport mafia rings

The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) is launching a nationwide crackdown on extortion rackets that prey on taxis, motorcycle taxis and passenger vans.

First Army Commander Lt Gen Thirachai Nakwanich said the campaign stresses extortion rings that control operators of urban public transport.

The move follows a meeting yesterday between Lt Gen Thirachai, who serves as chief of the NCPO's peace-keeping force; the police, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, the Interior Ministry and the Land Transport Department.

He said cracking down on extortion rackets is a key aim of NCPO chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha who wants to see results within a month.

Authorities are expected to evaluate their operations every week, he said.

Lt Gen Thirachai said the campaign against motorcycle-taxi extortion rackets is headed by Maj Gen Apirat Kongsompong; the drive against passenger van rip-off gangs is headed by Maj Gen Sompot Wangkaew; and the task force against taxi extortionists is headed by Maj Gen Nirandorn Samutsakhon.

Lt Gen Thirachai warned suspected extortionists, some of who are men in uniform, to behave or they would be summoned. The NCPO has a list of suspected extortionists.

He said the NCPO chief is also concerned about passengers who are being overcharged.

Public transport operators agree to pay money to extortion gangs so they can carry on their business undisturbed.

They overcharge passengers to absorb the burden.

The problem of public transport mafia is rampant, especially in tourist towns.

In addition to public transport, the NCPO is also stepping up campaigns against illegal gambling, drug trafficking and weapons smuggling, he said.

Security checkpoints and patrols have been beefed up in the provinces and areas where the curfew has been lifted, he said, adding the curfew may be reintroduced if extortion activities persist.

Lt Gen Thirachai said the NCPO has yet to consider when the curfew in Bangkok will be lifted.

Meanwhile, authorities continue to confiscate illegal gambling machines and weapons in mass crackdowns across the country.

A task force of police and soldiers has seized 83 illegal gambling machines, 1.2 million baht in cash and arrested a suspect in Bangkok's Nong Chok district, police said.

Phitsanu Im-kaew, the suspect, admitted to owning the gambling machines and has been charged with violating the customs and excise tax code, police said.

Another task force of police and troops has confiscated large numbers of firearms and arrested a suspect in Kalasin's Rong Kham district.

Khomsan Phusikhiew, the suspect, is wanted for alleged involvement in what is known as the Khon Kaen model, an anti-coup armed movement.

Shortly after the coup, suspected 21 militant red-shirt members were arrested in Khon Kaen with large numbers of guns and explosives.

Two others were caught later.

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