DHAKA: Three people-smugglers accused of trafficking thousands of people were killed in a gunfight with Bangladeshi police Friday, officers said, days after dozens of migrant remains were found in Thailand.
Police said the three “notorious” traffickers had died after being shot during an anti-trafficking raid in the southern coastal town of Teknaf in the Cox’s Bazar district, close to the border with Myanmar.
The traffickers were suspected of smuggling thousands of Bangladeshi and Myanmar nationals across rough seas to Malaysia and Thailand.
The raid followed the discovery this month of migrant graves and a network of secret jungle camps by people-smugglers in Thailand’s deep south.
“The three are the most notorious human traffickers to have been operating along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border for years,” senior regional police officer Jashim Uddin told AFP.
He added that one of them, 55-year-old Dholu Hossain, had been responsible for smuggling more than 1,000 Bangladeshis, “many of whom are now believed to have died in the sea or of starvation”.
“He used to send 50 people, mostly poor locals, per shipment in locally made wooden fishing trawlers, taking Taka 20,000 ($255) from each person,” he told AFP, adding that Dholu had been arrested several times but released on bail.
Teknaf police chief Ataur Rahman said the three men had operated human trafficking networks at home and in Thailand and Malaysia, where many were later held hostage in remote jungle hideouts.
Rahman added that hundreds of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar had also been trafficked by the same groups.
Thousands of young men have gone missing from coastal villages in southern Bangladesh in recent years.
Locals there reacted with anger after Thai authorities exhumed more than 30 bodies, all believed to be from Bangladesh and Myanmar, from two graves this month.
Bangladeshi police have said they have rescued more than 3,000 people from Cox’s Bazar and Chittagong city from the hands of traffickers over the past five years.