Thailand hunts Canadian paedophile suspect

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BANGKOK, Oct 17 (Reuters) Thai police, who launched a manhunt today for a Canadian paedophile suspect unmasked by a unique Interpol Internet appeal, plan to seek an arrest warrant after a boy accused him of paying for oral sex.

Police said a Thai teenager alleged Christopher Paul Neil paid him for oral sex in 2003, when he was 14, giving them grounds to ask a court for arrest warrant for the Canadian fugitive who fled a teaching post in South Korea last week.

Neil left abruptly after Interpol broadcast his photograph and flew to Thailand, where border posts were put on alert in case he tried to sneak out again and police appealed to the public to be on the lookout for him.

Police scoured tourist hangouts for the 32-year-old Canadian, who was caught on camera arriving at Bangkok airport, officials said.

Border guards in Thailand's neighbours have also been placed on alert in case Neil -- who has not yet been charged anywhere -- tried to slip across a land frontier.

Police Colonel Varayuth Sukavat said the young man met Neil through his father, hired to drive the Canadian around Bangkok and to the infamous red-light beach town of Pattaya.

The teenager told the police two friends stayed with Neil at an apartment in Bangkok, where he molested him, photographed and paid him between 500 and 1,000 baht (15-30 dollars) for each sex act, Varayuth said.

''He said Neil molested him when he went to play computer games with his friends at Neil's apartment and he saw photos of Neil having sex with his friends stored on the computer,'' Varayuth said.

''After the interview process and searches for some more evidence, we will seek an arrest warrant,'' he said.

They were still looking for the boy's friends, he added.

UNSCRAMBLED Neil, identified after his digitally swirled face in Internet photos of child sex abuse was unscrambled by German police computer experts, could face up to 20 years in jail if convicted in Thailand.

''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.

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.

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.

Now, Thai police have set up a special public hotline for information on Neil, who may have gone to ground in Pattaya, Thailand's capital of sleaze and a haven for 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 HT1742

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