Graves found at Thailand ‘trafficking camp’

Police in Thailand found dozens of shallow graves yesterday and at least one corpse in an isolated mountain shelter that is believed to be a trafficking camp for ethnic Rohingya Muslims fleeing from Burma.

Police teams inspect the site of graves at an jungle camp in Thailands Songkla province. Picture: AFP/Getty

The grim discovery was likely to revive discussion about human trafficking in Thailand, a known transit route for ethnic Rohingya, one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.

Acting on a tip from villagers, authorities sent teams of police and rescuers into the mountains of Padang Besar sub-district in southern Thailand’s Songkla province.

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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 Colonel Weerasant Tharnpiem said.

Mr Weerasant, the commander of Padang Besar police station, said 32 bodies were found.

Human trafficking is a sensitive issue in Thailand since the US 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.

A police spokesman said that he could only confirm the discovery of one corpse, one sick man and several graves at the site.

He added: “We are sending a team of forensic police to investigate. 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 discrimination in Burma and more than 100,000 have fled 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.