Thai police find graves of suspected trafficking victims
May 2, HAT YAI, Thailand—Police in Thailand found dozens of shallow graves Friday and at least one corpse in an isolated mountain shelter that is believed to be a trafficking camp for ethnic Rohingya Muslims fleeing Burma.The grim discovery was likely to revive discussion about human trafficking in Thailand, a known transiting route for ethnic Rohingya, one of the World’s most persecuted minorities.Acting on a tip from local villagers, authorities sent teams of police and rescuers into the mountains of Padang Besar sub-district in southern Thailand’s Songkla province. Reaching the camp on foot, they found a shelter with at least one corpse, one man who was alive but very weak and what appeared to be several other corpses, police Col. Weerasant Tharnpiem said.
Weerasant, the commander of Padang Besar police station, initially told The Associated Press that 32 bodies were found but later said he was ordered not to speak to the media further.Human trafficking is a sensitive issue in Thailand since the United states ranked the country in its lowest category — “Tier 3″ — in its annual assessment of how governments around the World have performed in fighting the practice.National police spokesman Lt. Gen. Prawut Thawornsiri said in a telephone interview that he could only confirm the discovery of one corpse, one sick man and several graves at the site.
“We are sending a team of forensic police to investigate,” he said. “This might be a graveyard where bodies are dumped and buried.”Authorities said traffickers are widely known to use the Songkla mountains and other nearby areas for temporary camps to house Rohingya asylum seekers before smuggling them to nearby Malaysia.The Rohingya face heavy discrimination in Burma and more than 100,000 have fled Burma’s western shores by boat since Buddhist-Muslim violence erupted in Rakhine state two years ago, according to estimates by experts tracking their movements.Even before the unrest, many sought asylum and work in other countries, especially Malaysia, which has a Muslim majority.
Many attempt dangerous sea crossings on overcrowded boats in what has become one of the largest boat exoduses in Asia since the Vietnam War.Burma, a predominantly Buddhist nation of 50 million that is still struggling to emerge from half a century of military rule, is home to an estimated 1.3 million Rohingya. Although many of their families arrived from Bangladesh generations ago, most are denied citizenship by Myanmar as well as Bangladesh. The country is officially called “Myanmar,” a holdover from military rule.In the last two and a half years, attacks by Buddhist mobs have left hundreds dead and 140,000 trapped in camps where they live without access to adequate health care, education or jobs.
The Oslo Times