TIME Thailand

Thai Dictator Faces Ire Over Bungled Investigation Into Murder of British Tourists

Thailand's Military Coup Continues As General Prayuth Receives Royal Endorsement
Thai military General Prayuth Chan-ocha speaks during a press conference after receiving the royal endorsement as the military coup leader on May 26, 2014, in Bangkok The Asahi Shimbun—2014 The Asahi Shimbun

The shoddy handling of the case has provoked international criticism

Thailand’s military dictator General Prayuth Chan-ocha is facing fierce protests on his maiden trip overseas, with Thai exiles in Italy rallying Thursday against his May 22 coup, and an indignant crowd expected to gather in London on Friday to protest the botched investigation into the brutal murder of two British backpackers on the resort island of Koh Tao.

Two Burmese casual workers, Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, both 21, have been arrested for rape and murder of Hannah Witheridge, 23, and murder of her friend David Miller, 24, who were found bludgeoned to death on the island’s idyllic Sairee Beach.

The mishandling of the case has made headlines around the globe.

On Tuesday, ignoring a litany of procedural irregularities, Prayuth told representatives from the British and Burmese governments that their role would be “limited to observation” as both nations must “respect our processes,” reported the Bangkok Post.

The investigation has been dubbed “a perfect job” by Thai police chief Somyot Pumpunmuang, but is in fact an “appalling mess” according to Felicity Gerry QC, a prominent British defense lawyer specializing in high-profile sexual-assault cases.

Her condemnation echoes those of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Thailand’s forensics’ chief, the U.K. government and the victims’ families.

Reports have emerged that Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun were beaten and threatened with electrocution during interrogation. (The Thai police robustly deny the allegations.)

They were also forced by police into a macabre re-enactment of the murder, which, Gerry tells TIME, is “bound to prejudice everything and does the victim and victims’ families no good at all.”

Tourists have also been allowed to visit the crime scene and the handling of evidence has been condemned.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, a witness hearing was called by Koh Samui Court, but the defense team, having just flown in from Bangkok, was permitted just half an hour to meet the suspects.

It was “just enough time to explain what is a lawyer, why you need a lawyer and what does a lawyer do for you,” says Andy Hall, a Thailand-based migrant labor activist helping to organize the defense.

A request to postpone the hearing to allow adequate time for the defense to prepare was thrown out by the judge, who claimed defense witnesses posed a flight risk, even though the witnesses were employed and legally resident in Thailand — coveted status for migrant Burmese.

“It makes absolutely no sense why, in such a sensitive case, the court would rush hearings and it once again undermines the accused’s right to a fair trial,” says Hall.

Back in the U.K., the distraught families of Miller and Witheridge can only watch and pray. “As a family we hope that the right people are found and brought to justice,” said Witheridge’s family in a statement last week.

TIME India

Al-Qaeda Chief Launches New Wing in South Asia

A photo of Al Qaeda's new leader, Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, is seen in this still image taken from a video released on September 12, 2011
Al-Qaeda's leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is seen in this still image taken from a video released on Sept. 12, 2011 Reuters TV

Vying with ISIS militants for jihadist followers, al-Qaeda launches a new chapter in the Indian subcontinent

Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri on Wednesday announced the creation of an Indian branch, boosting his group’s claims to be the world’s foremost jihadists.

In a 55-minute video posted online, al-Zawahiri urges Muslims to “wage jihad against its enemies, to liberate its land, to restore its sovereignty and to revive its caliphate,” reports the BBC.

Counterterrorism experts say al-Qaeda’s announcement is another effort to compete with the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), which is successfully recruiting young followers from across the world to join its conflict in the Middle East.

The two groups were previously aligned but fell out over ISIS militants’ brutality and expansion into Syria last year.

Al-Zawahiri said al-Qaeda’s presence in the Indian subcontinent would free Muslims from oppression in Burma, Bangladesh and elsewhere across the region.

[BBC]

TIME Thailand

A British Labor Activist’s Trial in Thailand Puts Free Speech in the Spotlight

THAILAND-BRITAIN-TRIAL-LABOUR-RIGHTS
British migrant rights' activist Andy Hall answers reporters' questions as he arrives for a hearing at a court in Bangkok on Sept. 2, 2014. Christophe Archambault—AFP/Getty Images

For making allegations of brutal conditions in the Thai pineapple industry, Andy Hall faces prison and a fine of up to $10 million

A British labor activist began his fight against defamation charges in a Bangkok court Tuesday, after a report he co-authored made serious allegations regarding abuses in Thailand’s food production industry.

Andy Hall, 33, faces both civil and criminal lawsuits after he alleged that practices including forced labor, the exploitation of children, the paying of unfair wages and up to 10 hours forced overtime daily were rife at factories belonging to Thai fruit firm Natural Fruit.

Defamation is a criminal offense in Thailand and Hall could receive up to a year in prison if convicted, as well as be liable for up to $10 million damages through civil action. Separate charges under Thailand’s much-criticized Computer Crimes Act could carry an additional seven years in jail.

“My work has always been in the public interest and I’ve fought for a long time for migrant workers,” he told TIME before his court appearance, adding that he is “incredibly confident” of acquittal. “I think it would be very difficult for this company to prove that I have any bad intentions towards them.”

Thailand is the world’s largest producer of pineapples and Natural Fruit the country’s largest producer of canned pineapples. The industry heavily relies upon migrant labor from impoverished neighbors such as Burma, Cambodia and Laos.

Natural Fruit is a big supplier to the European beverages market, and leading food companies have leaped to Hall’s defense, urging the company to drop its legal action, even threatening a boycott if their demands are not met. A petition with 300,000 signatures has also been filed.

“Migrant workers are silent and cannot speak out — often if they do they are killed,” adds Hall. “If I can’t speak out then who will combat trafficking and fight exploitation? Nobody would dare.”

Hall’s investigations were documented in the 2013 report, Cheap Has a High Price. It was only published in Finnish, by the advocacy group Finnwatch, but the defamation charges arose from a subsequent interview Hall gave to Al-Jazeera in Rangoon.

Speaking to the Democratic Voice of Burma in May, Natural Fruit’s lawyer Somsak Torugsa said “under Thai law, any charge of defamation that is made against Thai citizens or Thai companies can be tried in a Thai court of law.”

Natural Fruit’s owner, Virat Piyapornpaiboon, has vehemently denied the allegations several times and said he was saddened by them. “The report caused damage to me and my company. Any accusations were not true,” he told AFP.

Should Hall be convicted, Benjamin Zawacki, a human rights visiting fellow at Harvard Law School, fears a “chilling effect” for similarly outspoken activists who take on big business.

Criminal defamation, he says, “is a ready-made tool for use against critical, unpopular, oppositional speech — the very thing human rights defenders are known for and states are known not to welcome.”

Ominously, several other criminal defamation cases are currently targeting those who expose corruption and criminality in Thailand. On May 20, the Thai Army lodged a similar case against a respected Thai human rights activist for “damaging the reputation” of soldiers in the nation’s restive south, after she requested an investigation into an allegation of physical assault.

On Monday, two people were arrested for distributing leaflets demanding murder charges are reinstated against former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. They too have since been charged with criminal defamation. In addition, two editors of the Phuketwan newspaper are possibly facing seven years’ imprisonment for printing an extract from a Pulitzer Prize-winning Reuters report that alleged complicity by the Thai Navy in the trafficking of Rohingya Muslims. Reuters faces no such charges.

“They choose their targets,” says Hall, who has also received messages of support and concern from U.N. representatives, the E.U. and various human rights groups. “It’s a bad law and it’s a bad system and it’s really being used to silence those doing benefit to society.”

Zawacki notes that Thailand’s military government has “dropped, expedited or otherwise acted on many other controversial cases,” but the cases against both Hall and Phuketwan are moving forward. This, he says, “only emphasizes this point: political dissent will not be tolerated.”

TIME Thailand

Thousands of Refugee Children Are Suffering in Thai Detention

THAILAND-CHINA-TURKEY-REFUGEE
Children, part of a group of asylum seekers, sit in a truck as Thai immigration officials escort them to a court in Songkhla, southern Thailand, on March 15, 2014 Tuwaedaniya Meringing—AFP/Getty Images

A prominent watchdog accuses Bangkok of serious rights failings

Significant trauma is being experienced by thousands of refugee children being held in squalid detention centers in Thailand, claims a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The 67-page document, Two Years With No Moon: Immigration Detention of Children in Thailand, was published Tuesday and accuses Thailand of violating children’s rights, impairing their health and imperiling their development.

“Migrant children detained in Thailand are suffering needlessly in filthy, overcrowded cells without adequate nutrition, education or exercise space,” says report author Alice Farmer, children’s-rights researcher at the New York City–based advocacy group. “Detention lockup is no place for migrant children.”

Because there is a lack of legal and other mechanisms by which they can be released, many of the children are detained indefinitely, sometimes for years.

There are approximately 375,000 migrant children in Thailand, say experts, the largest number from Burma, officially known as Myanmar, where thousands have fled the world’s longest running civil war as well as recent pogroms against the Rohingya Muslim minority. Other young refugees hail from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Syria and elsewhere.

Unfortunately for them, Thailand has not ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and does not have functioning asylum procedures. If caught, undocumented aliens run the risk of being put in immigration detention, often in harsh conditions.

HRW researchers say that they found children were being crammed into cells so crowded that they had to sleep sitting up, and that the children were being housed with unrelated adults, risking sexual and physical abuse.

“I interviewed children who were terrified of some of the people they met in detention,” Farmer tells TIME. She claimed that that the conditions violated “the U.N. minimum standards for detention centers.”

“The worst part was that you were trapped and stuck,” says Cindy Y., a refugee detained between the ages of 9 and 12, told HRW. “I would look outside and see people walking around the neighborhood, and I would hope that would be me.” She was one of 41 children interviewed for the HRW report.

Thailand has denied that it is failing refugee children in a seven-page written response to the HRW. “Detention of some small number of migrant children in Thailand is not a result of the government’s policies but rather the preference of their migrant parents themselves (family unity) and the logistical difficulties,” it said.

“The Thai government is trying its best to address and accommodate the needs of migrant children, bearing in mind the humanitarian consideration and fundamental human rights. In addition, it is worth to mention [sic] the Thai officers who work tirelessly amidst all constraints to help sheltering these migrants. Their work deserves understanding as well as recognition.”

The only choice for the refugees is to return to their country of origin — a prospect many cannot countenance for fear of violence, persecution, torture or death — or else wait in the slim hope that they will be accepted for resettlement in a third country. It is a soul-destroying limbo.

“These kids have nowhere to go,” says Farmer, “and ultimately stay in detention indefinitely with no understanding of what will happen to them down the line. It puts a very big burden on the shoulders of some very small people.”

TIME Sri Lanka

How an Extremist Buddhist Network Is Sowing Hatred Across Asia

Nafeesathiek Thahira Sahabdeen
Nafeesathiek Thahira Sahabdeen, 68, at her ransacked home in Dharga Town, Sri Lanka. TIME

Saffron-clad monks have been instrumental in anti-Muslim riots in Burma and Sri Lanka, and have their eyes on sowing discord farther afield

During her long career as a teacher, Nafeesathiek Thahira Sahabdeen prided herself on treating children of all backgrounds the same. That didn’t help her on June 15, though, when a radical Buddhist mob ransacked her home in Dharga Town, a thriving trading hub in southwest Sri Lanka. The 68-year-old Muslim was left “penniless, homeless and heartbroken,” she says. “I thought I would die. I was so afraid.”

The anti-Muslim violence that ravaged Dharga Town, along with the nearby tourist enclave of Aluthgama, peppered with five-star resorts, has been attributed to a burgeoning Buddhist supremacy movement that has embarked on an organized campaign of religious hate.

Sahabdeen speaks to TIME in the ransacked living room of her gutted home. The ceiling fan lies in splinters, the sink ripped from the wall, a portrait of her long-deceased father torn in two. She was alone at prayer when around 200 young men “armed with knives, iron bars, chains” arrived at her home just after dusk. “I could hear them smashing, smashing, smashing,” she says, eyes welling up and fingers clasped together in supplication. “All around were flames.”

Touring her scorched neighborhood, the bevy of gutted buildings and roofless homes indicates Sahabdeen actually fared better than many. Three people died in the violence, all Muslims shot by police shepherding a 7,000-strong mob, claim locals, while another two people had legs amputated after receiving gunshot wounds. At least 80 more were injured.

What sparked this bloodletting between two communities with virtually no historical grievances? Throughout the ashes of Dharga Town, scrawled graffiti reading “BBS Did This” leaves little doubt where the victims lay blame.

BBS, or Bodu Bala Sena, otherwise known as Buddhist Power Force, is a Buddhist supremacist group accused of stirring sectarian hatred in Sri Lanka. Led by a monk, Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero, BBS accuses Sri Lanka’s Muslims of threatening the nation’s Buddhist identity, and enjoys support at high levels. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the President’s brother who also serves as Secretary of Defense, has been an outspoken supporter of BBS in the past.

“BBS echoes the sympathies and the prejudices of the majority Buddhist population,” says Jehan Perera, executive director of the National Peace Council NGO. “So the views have a certain resonance, and the media gives voice to that, and the counter view is toned down or even censored.”

The June 15 violence was sparked by an innocuous traffic dispute between a Muslim man and a Buddhist monk. Immediately afterward, Buddhist extremists descended on the monk and urged him to report the matter to the authorities. When the police declined to take action, a rally was organized. Gnanasara was there, addressing the mob. “If a Muslim or any other foreigner puts so much as a hand on a Sinhala person — let alone a monk — it will be the end of all of them!” he bellowed to raucous cheers. When the mob approached Muslim-majority Dharga Town, some people started throwing stones. This was all the provocation needed for a night of bedlam. In the aftermath of the riots, 135 people were arrested, say officials. To date, no one has been charged.

Gnanasara denies that BBS organized the march and blames the “uncontrolled behavior of some of the extreme Muslim communities in the area” for the ensuing bloodshed during a phone interview with TIME. But even before his firebrand oration, portents of trouble were clear; on the Facebook post to announce the gathering, one of the first comments asked, “Shall I bring a can of gasoline?”

So why is Sri Lanka, a nation of 20 million that for three decades was decimated by a vicious civil war between the Buddhist state and largely Hindu Tamil minority, suddenly gripped by anti-Muslim hatred? Historically, the island’s Muslim community had always been a staunch supporter of the Sinhala-Buddhist political establishment, as it similarly suffered at the hands of the LTTE rebel group, more commonly known as the Tamil Tigers, who expelled all Muslims from northern provinces.

“Prejudices are growing because there is a small but influential group of extremist Buddhists who are having a relatively free run and are able to articulate very national sentiments and highlight the insecurity of the Sinhalese,” says Perera, himself a Sinhalese Christian.

The Sri Lankan experience is far from unique. In Burma, officially known as Myanmar, just 1,000 miles (1,600 km) across the Bay of Bengal, an extremist Buddhist movement called 969 is waging a parallel war, using identical tactics as BBS. (Both groups rose to prominence around 2012. Its leader is also a monk, Wirathu. When anti-Muslim riots erupted in the central Burmese town of Meiktila in April last year, clashes that killed dozens and displaced thousands, he arrived in the middle of the carnage, although later claimed to have tried to halt the bloodshed. Then, during last month’s communal riots in Mandalay, where Wirathu’s monastery is based, he fanned the flames through an incendiary Facebook post warning of Muslims “armed to teeth with swords and spears” preparing a jihad against local Buddhists.

Both he and Gnanasara make virtually identical xenophobic claims about Muslims converting Buddhist women and luring them into unholy polygamous unions, and using their corrupt business acumen to swindle hard-working Buddhists. “[Muslims] are breeding so fast, and they are stealing our women, raping them,” Wirathu told TIME’s Hannah Beech last year. “They would like to occupy our country, but I won’t let them. We must keep Myanmar Buddhist.” (In fact, neither Burma nor Sri Lanka has seen a Muslim population explosion).

BBS speeches are very similar. Halal certification is apparently funding al-Qaeda and Hamas; Islamic blood sacrifices are summoning forth “ghosts and demons”; Muslim perverts are using burqas as disguises to carry out licentious deeds; and, most bizarrely, the Quran requires Muslims to spit three times into any food or beverage served to a person of another faith.

“I think they are learning from each other,” says Hilmy Ahmed, vice president of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka. “It started in Myanmar, but Gnanasara has perfected it.”

Certainly, the similarities between these nations are striking. Both Sri Lanka and Burma have large, state-backed Theravada Buddhist majorities making up about 70% to 80% of the population. Both nations have Muslim communities, of about 10% of the population, that historically backed the establishment. Both are going through the aftermath of decades-long civil conflicts against other ethnic minorities — the Hindu Tamils in Sri Lanka; a smattering of mainly Christian rebel groups in Burma. Now both boast extremist Buddhist movements led by rabble-rousing saffron-clad clerics.

Gnanasara is quick to laud his Burmese counterpart and admits the pair met over the summer to “establish an international network of activists stationed in Buddhist countries.”

“We are all in the same boat in terms of attacks on Buddhist communities,” he says. “What is happening in Burma and Thailand, especially the southern part of Thailand, [resembles] what happened recently in Bangladesh.”

BBS and 969 are embarking on a partnership with similar organizations and activists across the region to face off “international threats,” reveals Gnanasara. “It would be better to have some sort of cohesion between us so we can respond collectively.”

Gnanasara maintains he did not “discuss any tactics” during his meeting with Wirathu, yet a shared modus operandi is obvious. The Burmese incidents, just like the Aluthgama clashes and hundreds of others, were sparked by a personal grievance between a Muslim and Buddhist — an argument between shopkeeper and customer over gold rings in Meiktila; an allegation of rape in Mandalay that the accuser eventually admitted was a total fabrication — that quickly spiraled out of control. After the initial complaint, an extremist clique descends on the town to aid the “wronged” Buddhist party. Before long there are lootings, beatings and torched houses.

Now that existentialist threats to Sri Lanka and Burma have disappeared with the end of their respective civil conflicts, the specter of Muslim extremism is convenient means of justifying political control.

“It’s in this government’s narrow political interests of winning elections to foster the divide, to foster Sinhala nationalism,” says Perera. Hilmy agrees: “We feel that it’s likely to be government-orchestrated as the government has lost the confidence of the minorities. The Tamils and Christians are completely alienated.”

Sahabdeen, for one, needs no convincing. When hundreds of young men ripped her home apart, the security services stood idly by, just a block away. Eventually, two rioters escorted her toward these officers before returning, unhindered, to resume their plunder. “They took me out the gate as if I was being walked to the gallows,” she says. “The police just stood there.”

Ironically, while the reality of creeping Islamization is almost certainly bogus, the perceived threat may be instrumental in fomenting its creation. “Muslims don’t have any option but to live here and die here, and so I’m very worried if Muslims are pushed beyond a certain point forces from outside could exploit that,” says Hilmy.

If that happens, Sri Lanka and Burma could head straight back toward a fresh round of civil conflict.

TIME Burma

Burmese Journalists Sentenced to a Decade in Prison With Hard Labor

Myanmar Journalist Protest
Burmese journalists hold banners as they protest for press freedom outside the office of the Daily Eleven newspaper in Rangoon on Jan. 7, 2014. Khin Maung Win—AP

Five journalists were handed astonishingly harsh sentences for reporting about an alleged chemical-weapons plant in the central part of the country

Burma may no longer be a pariah state, but its courts have shown that the government’s authoritarian tendencies are alive and well.

On Thursday, a court in Pakokku Township sentenced the CEO of the Unity Weekly current-affairs magazine, and four of its reporters, to a decade in prison with hard labor for publishing an article earlier this year about the possible existence of a chemical-weapons factory in central Burma.

“This is blatant bullying of media workers by the government’s judicial and executive sectors,” Unity reporter Lu Maw Naing told Burmese broadcaster DVB Multimedia as policemen hustled him out of the courthouse.

Following the publication of the article in January, the government cracked down hard on the periodical. It was hit with a lawsuit by the President’s Office, issues of the magazine were seized and reporters were arrested. The journal was soon shuttered as financial pressures mounted.

While the government has confirmed the existence of the factory, Naypyidaw says it is for standard munitions and denies allegations that chemical weapons are being produced on the grounds. The claims are impossible to independently verify because Burma is a not signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The former generals at the country’s helm remain sensitive about reporting on weapons programs launched by the former junta. Despite the easing of a smattering of sanctions against Burma in the past two years, several nations, including the U.S., have refused to drop sanctions that target members of the country’s shady military.

Thursday’s ruling is the latest in a series of developments that belie Burma’s reformist narrative. Opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi remains barred from holding the country’s highest office, the internal peace process is stagnating and the rise of Buddhist nationalism has ripped massive holes in the diverse country’s delicate social fabric.

In addition, the fourth estate now appears to be firmly in the government’s crosshairs. In the past year, reporters from DVB and Eleven Media have been jailed, and in May the government deported a foreign journalist for covering a press-freedom rally. The palpable optimism that wafted over the nation three years ago is waning rapidly.

“I think [this case] shows the true colors of this government,” Aung Zaw, editor of the Irrawaddy news magazine, tells TIME. “It’s a real reminder of the old days under the previous repressive regime.”

During a radio address to the nation earlier this month, President Thein Sein boasted that Burma’s media environment was one of the freest in Southeast Asia. However, he added the caveat that journalists who undermine “national security” would be punished.

“[If] media freedom threatens national security instead of helping the nation, I want to warn all that we will take effective action under existing laws,” said Thein Sein, according to a state-run publication.

Just a week later, the threat became reality for the reporters of Unity Weekly. The administration relied on the colonial-era Official Secrets Act to wallop the journalists rather than prosecuting them through newly passed media legislation.

“The authorities are clearly shifting from rule of law to rule by law,” says Benjamin Ismail, head of Reporters Without Borders’ Asia-Pacific desk.

“They are just trying to justify their censorship and repression of the press by showing the international community that legal procedures are followed and everything is normal.”

Editors on the ground say the financially ruinous lawsuit launched against Unity is part of the government’s elaborate strategy to silence dissent. With myriad publications struggling to keep their head above the water in the impoverished country, any legal action could prove disastrous.

“There’s a clear glass ceiling from the owners or the business side,” says Toe Zaw Latt, DVB’s Burma bureau chief. “Once there is trouble, of course you lose money.”

Harassment of editors also appears to be on the rise. In the past two weeks, numerous press offices have reportedly been party to unannounced visits from officers from the military’s special branch.

“They come to our office and other media offices asking petty questions: ‘How are you making money?’ ‘Are you making a lot of business?’ ‘Are you making a profit?’” says Aung Zaw. “It’s clearly intimidation.”

TIME southeast asia

Elephants Are Tortured and Trafficked to Entertain Tourists in Thailand

An elephant lifts a tourist during a show in Pattaya, Thailand on March 1, 2013.
An elephant lifts a tourist during a show in Pattaya, Thailand on March 1, 2013. Pornchai Kittiwongsakul—AFP/Getty Images

That obligatory elephant ride and selfie relies on a bloody trade in tormented animals

Wild elephants are being captured in Burma and mentally broken through savage beatings as traffickers seek to profit from a lucrative trade to Thai tourist parks, claims a new report.

According to wildlife-advocacy group TRAFFIC, poachers in Burma, officially known as Myanmar, corral elephants into jungle pits, after which older animals are slaughtered and the more valuable young ones tortured into submission before being trafficked over the porous border to entertain tourists vacationing in the self-styled Land of Smiles. (Formerly, elephants in Burma might have been put to work in the logging industry, but recent curbs have put this trade under threat.)

Sangduen Chailert, popularly known as Lek, has worked in elephant conservation in her native northern Thailand for 20 years. “When they catch a wild baby elephant, some [poachers] told me that in the jungle it’s like a killing field,” she tells TIME. “To take one baby they must kill the mother and the aunties, and it is very risky for the baby as it’s difficult for them to survive without their mothers.”

Thailand vowed to clamp down on the trade in February 2012, yet as elephants can be registered and microchipped anytime up to the age of 4, there is ample opportunity for young trafficked animals to be passed off as locally reared.

“There are gaping holes in the current legislation, which do little to deter unscrupulous operators passing off wild-caught young animals as being of captive origin and falsifying birth and ownership documentation,” said Joanna Cary-Elwes, campaigns manager for Elephant Family.

Healthy young elephants typically fetch more than $30,000 in Thailand, according to TRAFFIC. Venal officials often facilitate their illicit movement across Southeast Asia, even shipping them as far as China or South Korea after giving the animals new identities in Laos.

Lek, who was named one of six Women Heroes of Global Conservation by former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2010, says educating tourists is vital to combat the trade at the source. Some 6,500 elephants currently live in Thailand, around 2,500 of which are wild-caught.

“Tourists want to see the elephants painting and doing lots of things, especially riding,” she says, but “tourism work is actually the most disturbing to the elephant” as “when logging they only work for part of the year.”

The TRAFFIC study says up to 81 live elephants were illegally captured for sale to the Thai tourist industry between 2011 and 2013. Lax implementation of current antitrafficking provisions means the current plod across the mountainous Thai-Burmese frontier may soon become a stampede once again.

“Unless urgent changes are made to outdated legislation and better systems are introduced to document the origin of elephants in tourist camps and other locations across Thailand, things could quickly revert to their previous unacceptable state,” says Chris Shepherd, TRAFFIC’s regional director for Southeast Asia.

TIME Burma

Once Again, Racial Tensions in Burma Turn Deadly

Police officers guard a Muslim residential area in Mandalay
Police officers guard a Muslim residential area in Mandalay July 3, 2014. Soe Zeya Tun—Reuters

Buddhist gangs, including monks, attacked Muslim-owned businesses and a mosque, in violence that has left two dead

A police curfew has helped restore calm to Mandalay, Burma’s second largest city, following mob violence between local Buddhists and Muslims that has so far claimed two lives and left more than a dozen injured.

Rioting was sparked Tuesday evening when Buddhist gangs — including monks — attacked Muslim-owned businesses, cars and a mosque with bricks and make-shift weapons, apparently enraged by the rape of a Buddhist woman allegedly by two Muslim owners of a teashop.

“Two men were killed” in overnight attacks into Thursday, Zaw Min Oo, a senior police officer in Mandalay, confirmed to AFP.

One victim, a 30-year-old Buddhist man named Tun Tun, was hacked to death with a sword, according to local officials, while a Muslim man, Soe Min Htway, was apparently killed in retaliation while traveling to dawn prayers. Around 400 local police were deployed Thursday to keep the peace and rubber bullets were reported fired.

Five Muslims were reportedly arrested Friday after security officials searched their homes and found knives. “Police definitely know these are used for ceremonial purposes,” Ossaman, an imam at Mandalay’s largest mosque, told Reuters. “They were not breaking any law.”

Mandalay is the home of extremist Buddhist monk Wirathu and has long been a hub of simmering inter-religious tensions; the controversial cleric appears to have been instrumental is spreading the rape rumors that led to the latest violence via his Facebook page.

On Thursday, he warned of Muslims “armed to teeth with swords and spears” preparing a jihad against local Buddhists, reports the Democratic Voice of Burma.

Sporadic violence between Buddhists and Muslims has convulsed Burma for over two years now, as the former pariah nation emerges from a half-century of brutal military dictatorship. More than 240 people have been killed and at least 140,000 displaced, most of them Rohingya — a heavily persecuted Muslim group largely denied citizenship.

Buddhist depictions of Muslims as sexual predators are commonplace, spurring the sectarian bloodletting; when the most recent spell of violence erupted in June 2012, it was in response to the rape and murder of a Buddhist girl in western Arakan state blamed on three Muslim men.

Extremist rhetoric frequently portrays Muslim men as being hungry for multiple Buddhist wives, forcing them to convert. The prejudice has spurred the introduction of a monk-championed interfaith marriage ban bill, which is currently before parliament.

While official figures state that only four percent of Burma’s 60 million people are Muslim, independent observers put the true as figure significantly higher.

Meanwhile on Wednesday senior Buddhist clergy claimed that all monks present during the Mandalay riots were there as peacemakers. “We are holding a press conference to clarify that the monks were not involved,” Galone Ni Sayadaw, of the All Burma Monks Union-Upper Burma, told assembled media.

Burmese President Thein Sein used a radio address Thursday to call for stability without specifically mentioning the Mandalay turmoil. “For reforms to be successful, I would like to urge all to avoid instigation and behavior that incites hatred in our fellow citizens,” said the former junta general.

Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, a former political prisoner who has now been elected to parliament, has faced international censure for her reticence regarding ongoing sectarian violence, but briefly addressed the subject during an interview with Radio Free Asia.

“The authorities should properly handle those people who are spreading rumors,” she said. “Without rule of law, more riots will come.”

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser