Thai police hunt suspected Canadian paedophile

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BANGKOK, Oct 17 (Reuters) Thai police launched a nationwide manhunt for a Canadian paedophile suspect today, asking for public help in catching a man unmasked by a unique Interpol Internet appeal and putting all border checkpoints on alert.

Immigration police at 54 border posts were ordered to watch for Christopher Paul Neil and police were scouring tourist hangouts for the 32-year-old caught on camera at Bangkok airport arriving from Seoul last week, officials said.

Border guards in Thailand's neighbours have also been placed on alert in case he tried to slip across a land frontier.

Neil, whose digitally swirled face in Internet photos of child sex abuse was unscrambled by German police computer experts, fled South Korea shortly after Interpol posted unscrambled pictures of his face on the Web.

Thai child crime detectives were raking through Neil's time as an English language teacher in Bangkok in 2003-04, talking to former colleagues and visiting places where he used to stay, police said.

They were also looking for four male teenagers believed to have been sexually abused by Neil -- who so far has not been charged in any country -- to issue an arrest warrant for child molestation.

''I think he will be trying very hard to hide. Everybody in Thailand now knows him as his photos have been on every TV channel,'' police Major-General Wimol Powin told Reuters.

If found guilty of sexually abusing children in Thailand, Neil could face up to 20 years in jail, Wimol said.

Detectives in various countries have been trying to track down Neil since German police discovered photographs on the Internet three years ago showing him raping 12 boys in Vietnam and Cambodia.

His face was disguised with a swirly digital pattern, but experts at Germany's BKA federal crime office managed to unravel the image, to reveal a white man with receding black hair.

When Interpol posted the cleaned-up picture of the suspect on its Web site (www.interpol.int) -- the first time it has issued a direct worldwide appeal -- more than 350 people came forward.

Thai immigration police said they were also considering revoking Neil's 30-day tourist entry permit to make it possible to arrest him for illegal entry.

Police have set up a special public hotline for information on Neil, who officers suspect may have gone to ground in the eastern seaside town of Pattaya, Thailand's capital of sleaze and a haven for perverts and international criminal gangs.

Despite this reputation, the saga of American John Mark Karr, who claimed to have killed child beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey, suggests Neil's days of freedom are numbered.

Karr was arrested in 2006 by Thai police tipped off by American detectives investigating e-mails he sent from an Internet cafe in a downmarket area of Bangkok.

Then, police searched all hotels in the district and even disguised themselves as guests to check in to one run-down hostel where they thought he was staying.

After his extradition to the United States, DNA evidence cleared Karr, 42, of any involvement in the murder of Ramsey, one of America's most notorious unsolved crimes.

Reuters PD GC1450

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