Thai authorities find six more bodies in people-smuggling probe

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PADANG BESAR: Thai police investigating people-smuggling said six more bodies were found Wednesday in the same patch of jungle bordering Malaysia where the remains of dozens of migrants were exhumed last week.

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The grim discovery was made about one kilometer from the hillside site where 26 bodies were found over the weekend, near the town of Padang Besar in the southern province of Songkhla.

National police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri said the bodies of two men and four women had been found.

“It was in a graveyard in a forest on the hillside… around one kilometer from the first camp,” he told AFP.

“They were old bodies,” Prawut said, referring to their state of decay.

A second senior police officer confirmed the find.

Thai authorities have not yet identified any of the bodies, saying they are in a severe condition of decay.

But the dead are believed to be migrants from Myanmar or Bangladesh. While forensic officers have yet to conclude the causes of death, police have speculated that they may have died from malnutrition or disease.

Several officials from Padang Besar have been charged with human trafficking, while more than a dozen policeman in southern Thailand have been transferred from their positions.

Three more people are on the run, Prawut added.

Rights groups have long accused the Thai authorities of turning a blind eye to — and even being complicit in — people-smuggling.

In recent months the military junta, which took over in a coup last May, has vowed to crack down on the trade.

In January it said more than a dozen government officials — — including senior policemen and a navy officer — were being prosecuted for involvement or complicity in human trafficking.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims — mainly from Myanmar — have made the dangerous sea crossing to southern Thailand in recent years, with many trying to reach Malaysia and beyond.

But many are held captive by ruthless people-trafficking networks that demand thousands of dollars from their friends or family to release them.

On Tuesday anti-trafficking group Freeland said a recent investigation conducted by police and NGOs revealed traffickers were demanding around $3,000 per migrant from family members, or selling them on to Malaysian farmers for $1,000 each.

The exodus of Rohingya — described by the UN as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities — has followed deadly communal unrest in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state since 2012.

Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh — as well as Bangladeshi citizens — have also been kidnapped and trafficked to Thailand, after being duped with fake job offers or even drugged.

The recent crackdown — sparked by the arrest of an alleged major migrant kingpin known as “Anwar” — appears to have forced smugglers to switch tactics, emptying camps but leaving the weak behind to fend for themselves.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, Wednesday called for “coordinated efforts by countries in the region” to prevent people-smuggling.

AFP

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