Malaysian 'migrant' graves exhumed
Malaysian forensics teams have exhumed a body from a shallow grave at an abandoned camp used by human traffickers, the first of what police predicted would be more grim findings as they combed through a cluster of jungle camps on the border with Thailand.
Authorities say there are 139 suspected graves in the mountainous jungle where northern Malaysia meets southern Thailand, a remote area that trafficking syndicates used as a transit point to hold migrants for ransom.
Most were believed to be members of Burma's persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority and impoverished migrants from Bangladesh.
"Forensics teams have found one human body so far," said Mohammad Bahar Alias, a senior police official from northern Perlis state.
Digging continued at other graves, which police said were marked by sticks or a trio of three stones. "There are graves all over this area."
Malaysian police took journalists to one of 28 abandoned camps found after a regional crackdown was launched on human trafficking earlier this month.
The camp, reached after a steep two-hour hike up a jungle path, appeared to have been abandoned a while ago, police said. What remained was a jungle prison that included at least two large wooden pens wrapped with barbed wire.
"These structures were believed to be used as human cages," said Mohammad Bahar Alias. He said the camp may have held up to 300 people.
The discoveries in the northern Malaysian state of Perlis follow a similar discovery earlier this month by police in Thailand who unearthed dozens of bodies from shallow graves on the Thai side of the border. Thai police major general Puthichart Ekkachan said 36 bodies had been found there in seven abandoned camps.
The discoveries have exposed hidden networks of jungle camps run by human smugglers, who have for years held countless desperate people captive while extorting ransoms from their families. Most of the victims were part of a wave of people who have fled their homelands to reach countries such as Malaysia, where they hope to find work or live freely.
As South East Asian governments have launched crackdowns in recent weeks amid intensified international pressure and media scrutiny, traffickers have abandoned camps on land and boats at sea to avoid arrest.
This month, more than 3,500 people - about half of them from Bangladesh and half Rohingya from Burma - have landed ashore in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Thousands more are believed to be trapped at sea in boats abandoned by their captains.
Malaysian home minister Zahid Hamidi said police are probing the possibility that government officials, including some from the forestry department, may be involved in the human trafficking syndicates.
He said several people have been detained and are under investigation but did not provide further details.