Thai police find graves at second migrant jungle camp

Thai police find graves at second migrant jungle camp
Soe Naing, who is widely known as Anwar, gestures after being arrested at the provincial police station in Nakhon Si Thammarat, southern Thailand

BANGKOK - Investigators in southern Thailand have discovered five graves at a second remote jungle camp believed to contain the remains of migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh, police said Tuesday.

The camp was uncovered just one kilometre from a similar encampment on a steep hillside close to the Malaysian border, where forensic teams found 26 bodies over the weekend, all but one buried in shallow graves.

"We found the second camp yesterday evening," national police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri told reporters, saying the location was close to the first camp which lay 25 kilometres (16 miles) west of Padang Besar in Thailand's southern Songkhla province.

"We also found five graves but cannot yet confirm whether any bodies are in them. Authorities will look into this," he added.

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

Stung by that notorious reputation, Thailand's military government has launched a crackdown in recent months, arresting scores of officials.

But the grim discovery of bodies in various stages of decay has vividly illustrated the enormous dangers faced by desperate migrants trying to flee persecution or poverty.

Each year tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar and Bangladesh make the dangerous sea crossing to southern Thailand, a well-worn trafficking route often on the way south to Malaysia and beyond.

Thailand's southern border region contains a network of secret camps where smuggled migrants are held, usually against their will, until relatives pay hefty ransoms.

But the recent crackdown - which was sparked by the arrest of an alleged major migrant kingpin known as "Anwar" - has forced smugglers to switch tactics, emptying camps but leaving the weak behind to fend for themselves.

Two adults suffering from malnutrition and scabies were discovered at the first camp and were sent to a local hospital. A fresh corpse was also out in the open.

During a visit to the region on Saturday AFP also came across two teenage migrant boys who had been apprehended by police.

They said they had fled the first camp when the authorities raided it on Friday for another one nearby, adding to suspicions that camps were still operating in the region.

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 have also been kidnapped and trafficked to Thailand, after being duped with fake job offers or even drugged.

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