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More than 30 bodies have been pulled from shallow graves at a human-trafficking camp near the Malaysian border with the national police chief saying 20 more could be found.
Pol Gen Somyot Pumpunmuang said he had received reports from Songkhla provincial police and soldiers of 50 graves at the remote camp located in a mountainous jungle section of tambon Padang Besar in Songkhla’s Sadao district, southern Thailand.
The camp is so close to the border, authorities are trying to determine if it resides on Thai or Malaysian soil. Officials were alerted to its existence by a Malaysian who stumbled upon it, Thai media reported.
Most of the dead are suspected to be Rohingya Muslim refugees from Burma who starved to death or died of disease while awaiting payment of ransoms to be smuggled into Malaysia by a trafficking gang comprised of Thai, Burmese and Malaysian nationals.
Reports quoted investigators as saying that the camp held 200-300 Rohingya migrants. Pol Gen Somyot said, however, called it a detention centre for migrants.
Traffickers usually set up camps in random locations to avoid authorities, then leave behind any sick or dead when threatened with detection.
Sathit Kamsuwan, of the Maikom Sadan municipal rescue service, told the Phuketwan website that authorities had to trek 50 minutes up a hill to reach them.
”About 200 army, police and rescue workers have had to climb on foot for 50 minutes up the hill into the jungle,” he said.
So far, 33 bodies have been unearthed and have to be carried out by hand, as vehicles cannot reach the grave sites. Rescuers found one person still alive. He was said to have been left behind as the traffickers fled and was extremely emaciated.
Authorities said they suspect there could be around 50 bodies buried at the camp.
This article was originally published in the Bangkok Post on 1 May 2015.