Malaysia has found 139 graves, and signs of torture, in more than two dozen squalid human trafficking camps suspected to have been used by gangs smuggling migrants across the border with Thailand, the country’s police chief said on Monday.
Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said officials are determining whether the graves were of human trafficking victims, but did not say how many dead bodies were discovered.
“The IGP (Inspector General of Police) and his deputy is currently at the Malaysian-Thailand borders for confirmation and identification of the bodies in the mass grave. The mass graves area has been identified by VAT 69 (special police force) and PGA (general police force) as being used for human trafficking activities of refugees,” he told reporters at the sidelines of an event in Kuala Lumpur.
According to media reports, the mass graves were believed to contain bodies of hundreds of migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Police discovered 30 large graves containing the remains of hundreds of people in two places in the northern state of Perlis, which borders Thailand, the Utusan Malaysia newspaper reported.
The Star newspaper reported on its website that nearly 100 bodies were found in one grave on Friday.
Ahmad Zahid said that the camps identified are in the areas of Klian Intan and villages near the border.
“There are also 14 big camps as well as three additional smaller camps found at the borders used to hold the refugees,” he said.
A police spokeswoman declined to comment, saying a news conference on the issue would be held on Monday.
A police official who declined to be identified said police commandos and forensic experts from the capital, Kuala Lumpur, were at the site but it was not clear how many graves and bodies had been found.
Northern Malaysia is on a route for smugglers bringing people to Southeast Asia by boat from Myanmar, most of them Rohingyas, who say they are fleeing persecution, and people from Bangladesh seeking work.
Smugglers have also used southern Thailand and Utusan Malaysia and police believe the discovery had a connection to mass graves found on the Thai side of the border this month.
Twenty-six bodies were exhumed from a grave in Thailand’s Songkhla province, over the border from Perlis, near a camp with suspected links to human trafficking.
More than 3,000 migrants, most of them from Myanmar and Bangladesh, have landed on boats in Malaysia and Indonesia this month after a crackdown on trafficking in Thailand.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Thursday pledged assistance and ordered the navy to rescue thousands adrift at sea.