MAY 27 (Reuters) — Malaysian police forensic teams, digging with hoes and shovels, began pulling out the remains of dozens of suspected victims of human traffickers on Tuesday (May 26) from shallow graves discovered at a jungle camp near the border with Thailand.
The government said it was investigating whether local forestry officials were involved with the people-smuggling gangs believed responsible for nearly 140 such graves discovered around grim camps in the country’s northwest.
The dense forests of southern Thailand and northern Malaysia have been a major stop-off point for smugglers bringing people to Southeast Asia by boat from Myanmar, most of them Rohingya Muslims who say they are fleeing persecution, as well as Bangladeshi migrant workers.
On Tuesday authorities took a group of journalists to one of the camps, nestled in a gully in a thick jungle up a steep, well-worn path about an hour’s walk from the nearest road.
Apparently abandoned in haste, what remained of the camp was little more than a tangle of bamboo and tarpaulin, but one police official, who did not want to be identified, said it could have held up to 400 people.
“For now, we can confirm that we have found one human remain,” said Perlis state police assistant superintendent Muhammad Bahar.
“There may be more,” he said, reiterating, “In this grave, we have collected only one skeleton.”
Malaysian authorities said on Monday (May 25) they had found 139 graves, some containing more than one body, around 28 camps scattered along a 50-km (30 mile) stretch of the border in the northern state of Perlis.
On Monday evening, police had removed a badly decomposed body found unburied in a shack at one of the camps. Police said the unidentified person had been dead around two or three weeks.