Security beefed up along Thai border

Security beefed up along Thai border
Remains of the trade: Reporters (right) and offiicials surveying the abandoned camp with some remaining structures.
PHOTO: The Star/ANN

WANG KELIAN - Two kilometres from a main road into the forest reserve here, isolated and away from curious eyes, there is a round space cleared of trees.

This is no alien landing ground.

This was where helicopters landed to carry the human remains exhumed from 139 burial plots found in the last two months, believed to be trafficked Rohingya and Bangladeshis.

Fifty metres away from the makeshift helipad, lies a line of 1.5m-deep mass graves - a grim reminder of the cruelty that victims of trafficking suffered in the hands of the syndicates.

The discovery of the graves happened in May this year, two months after the cut-off date for evidence collection of the US State Depart­ment's annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report.

The United States had on Monday upgraded Malaysia in the annual report on human trafficking despite calls by human rights groups and nearly 180 US lawmakers to keep the South-East Asian country on a list of worst offenders in failing to suppress trafficking.

Malaysian enforcement authorities have worked hard in a concerted attempt to kill off the seemingly widespread human trafficking syndicates.

The war against the syndicates is a tough battle to win, but Malaysia is determined to make an impact.

A recent visit by The Star to the trafficking campsite revealed border security has been tightened with more police bases being set up across the forest reserve.

Patrols have increased tenfold with police squadrons taking turns to enter the forest reserve.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim said Malaysia has also been working closely with Thai authorities to minimise illegal crossings at the border.

"So far, we have not seen any movement," said Shahidan who has been frequenting the campsites.

He added that Thai authorities had taken action against a few high-ranking officers believed to be part of the human trafficking syndicate.

Meanwhile, Malaysia has arrested more than 10 officers to assist in investigations with the latest one being a Rohingya called "Yassin".

The two trafficking camps visited by The Star were within a 50m radius from the mass grave beside the helipad.

One of the two is the largest trafficking camp out of 28 found in the 15km stretch of thick foliage.

In this camp, there were empty huts, a recreational area, surau, mini farm, and six watch towers.

The size of half a football field, only the huts were surrounded by barbed wire.

Crossing through a stream right beside the "detainment huts" was a proper settlement area.

Allegations of abuse, including those sexual in nature, were said to have happened here.

Within the camp, there is an enclosed small area with canvas, where ladies underwear were strewn over the dirty carpets.The living areas had larger space and no barbed wires or watch towers.

Shahidan suggested the settlement area could have been a village for traffickers.

"This is an extraordinary settlement. There is a farm, recreational area, proper kitchen and a surau," he said.

He compared the campsites to those of the Viet Cong prisoner of war camps, with trees marked by red clothes.

"These are definitely not Malaysian-made settlements. They would have built these in a short period of time," he said during his latest visit there.

"Who do you think plays sepak takraw?" he questioned when asked on who could be the culprit.

Shahidan said the camp probably existed two to three years ago.

The garlic bulbs and remnants of food around the settlement area indicated traffickers abandoned the camp recently.

And, as far as Shahidan is concerned, they must never return.

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