Korlimula Ramahatu, 26, accused of raping a Rohingya woman
By Chutima Sidasathian and Alan Morison
January 25, 2014
PHUKET: Charges against a policeman accused of assisting in the abduction of a group of Rohingya women and children north of Phuket have been dropped, according to court documents.
Five witnesses identified a senior sergeant as the getaway driver of a vehicle that carried the women and children as they fled a government-run family shelter in Khao Lak.
It was the first time in Thailand that a man in uniform has been accused of being involved with trafficking Rohingya boatpeople.
However, court documents now show that the officer is not named over a human trafficking case or accusations of rape connected to the incident.
The senior sergeant was suspended from the force in July last year pending the outcome of the case. One man in the getaway vehicle with the officer is alleged to have raped one of the women at knifepoint, then repeatedly raped her over several days.
Facing human trafficking and rape charges is Korlimula Ramahatu, 26, an illegal migrant who is believed to have been just one of several traffickers who live in the Andaman coast region.
Staff from the family shelter are surprised that none of them have been called so far to be interviewed by the prosecutor in the rape trial, which is scheduled for the local court on February 24.
The Rohingya women and children left the shelter voluntarily in expectation that they would be reunited with their menfolk in Malaysia once cash changed hands. But they found themselves kidnapped.
Three Rohingya women and two children claim they were abducted from the Khao Lak shelter in May, with a local policeman at the wheel of the getaway pickup.
One woman and her two children say they were taken to Yeepon island, about 15 minutes by speedboat off the coast from the fishing port of Kuraburi.
The woman says she was first raped at knifepoint in the only house on the island, then raped twice more in successive nights by Korlimula Ramahatu, 26.
The group went back to the island twice with investigators, relating their story in detail. The two children, girls aged 12 and nine, were interviewed by a panel of people with particular care for the well-being of the children.
The senior sergeant was a member of the Marine Police in Kuraburi before transferring to the local police nearby, working at stations in Khao Lak and Thai Muang.
It has also now been established that Yeepon island is also known by another name, Ra island. Phuketwan’s own records of the recent arrivals of Rohingya boats along the Andaman coast show that six vessels arrived at Ra island in January, 2013.
The house where the Rohingya woman says she was raped – one of only two buildings on the island – has large dormitory sized rooms capable of housing boatloads of people temporarily.
While many of the Rohingya leave Rakhine state in Burma (Myanmar) in flimsy vessels, it’s believed communications with traffickers have become more sophisticated over time.
The involvement of the military or local police has yet to be proven, although Andaman coast villagers and Rohingya in Malaysia are adamant that uniformed officials have been paid by traffickers by the boatload.
With senior officers continuing to refuse to even consider an independent investigation, Phang Nga’s Provincial Police Commander, major General Chalit Keawyarat, told Phuketwan in July that the rape and abduction investigation was ”’a small case.”’
He said he could not understand the level of involvement of NGOs and ”’foreign”’ media and said that journalists from Thai outlets had shown little interest.
The women and children were among a group of more than 70 who were taken to the family refuge centre in January last year as Thai authorities rounded up and detained more than 2000 Rohingya from boats at sea and trafficking camps along the border with Malaysia.
Like most of the 2000 Rohingya, the group of women and children connected to the rape case eventually vanished from Thailand and are presumed to have been trafficked across the border to Malaysia.
Rohingya Rape: The Women’s Account
KORLIMULA RAMAHATU appeared at the family shelter on May 19 last year, said he was a Rohingya living in Thailand, and told staff he had come to help the women and children. He produced a Pattani province health card as proof of his identity.
Later, in words that the shelter’s staff could not understand, he told the women: ”Anyone who has family or cousins in Malaysia, give the telephone numbers to me, I will help send you to Malaysia. If you do not get there soon, the Thai government will send you back to Burma (Myanmar).”
Most of the women gave him telephone numbers. He vanished and was not seen again until the night of May 26, when he met three women and allowed them to talk on a mobile telephone with their husbands in Malaysia.
The husbands told the three women they had paid for them to travel on, with one man saying he had paid the full sum of 50,000 baht and the other two saying they had put down deposits of 20,000 baht each.
The women jumped inside a black pickup outside the centre, along with two children, with a driver already at the wheel.
This was the man the women and children later identified as a senior sergeant. To emphasise his connections, Korlimula told them: ”We are working with the police.”
The group spent three nights at a hideout north of Khao Lak then moved to another place for one night, and a third hideout for two nights. On June 3-6, they stayed at Baan Dok Dang, near a house belonging to the policeman.
After darkness on June 5, the group was split up following calls to the husbands of the two women who had paid deposits. The calls failed to extract more money.
The women are aged 22 and 18. They say the policeman at one stage put a chain around the neck of the 22-year-old and beat her with a shoe.
With their husbands unable to pay more than the 20,000 baht deposit, the women were driven south to Surat Thani province in another vehicle by another man – so far unidentified but also suspected of being a police officer.
The third woman and her two young children were taken to a previous hideout for one night then transported by boat on June 9 to a remote house on Yeepon Island that they shared with Korlimula.
That night, after the woman rejected Korlimula’s offer to ”marry” her, she was allegedly raped at knifepoint in the room shared with her children.
The next night, he allegedly raped her again, telling her that if she slept with him, she and her children would be returned to the shelter.
On the third night, he insisted on ”one more night” and allegedly raped her again.
The women and children were so distraught that Korlimula returned them to the mainland on June 12, and at 4am on June 13 the group was picked up by the policeman.
He dropped off Korlimula and went on to Phang Nga Police Station, where he told officers that he had arrested the family when he spotted them by a roadside and investigated.
The mother was charged with absconding, fined 1000 baht and with no money, stayed in a cell at Takuapa Police Station for five days as punishment. Her children were returned immediately to the shelter, where the other two women were also taken after also serving time for absconding.
Local police showed reluctance initially to investigate but Kuraburi police eventually charged Korlimula with rape and human trafficking and the senior sergeant was expected to face counts of human trafficking and behavior unbecoming a police officer.