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Mass grave found at Thai human trafficking camp

By Amy R. Connolly
Mass graves with some 30 bodies were discovered at the Thailand-Malaysia border, an area known for human trafficking. Map courtesy Google Maps
Mass graves with some 30 bodies were discovered at the Thailand-Malaysia border, an area known for human trafficking. Map courtesy Google Maps

PADANG BESAR, Thailand, May 2 (UPI) -- Thai authorities continued early Saturday to excavate a mass grave site at an abandoned jungle camp near the Thailand-Malaysia border, an area known for human trafficking.

One survivor, a man from Bangladesh, was found starving and exhausted. Authorities think he was left to die when traffickers fled the camp in the Sadao district of Songkla province, some 330 yards north of the Malaysian border. National Police Chief Somyot Pumpanmuang said the area is a "virtual prison camp," where migrants were held in bamboo cages.

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Human Rights Watch is calling for an independent, United Nations-assisted investigation to "bring those responsible to justice, including any government officials involved."

"The finding of a mass grave at a trafficking camp sadly comes as little surprise," said Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch Asia director. " The long involvement of Thai officials in trafficking means that an independent investigation with UN involvement is necessary to uncover the truth and hold those responsible to account."

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Authorities said some of the bodies found were in an advanced state of decomposition, making it difficult to identify the gender and nationality. Authorities learned about the camp from a tipster.

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"We think there may be between 30-40 graves," said Thai police spokesman Lt. General Prawut Thavornsiri. "The detention camp is situated on the Thai side near the Malaysian border. We have cordoned off the area, and will dispatch a team of forensic experts from Bangkok to the area tomorrow."

Human Rights Watch said many were buried in shallow graves and others were covered with blankets and clothes. The advocacy group said the dead are Rohingya Muslims from Burma and Bangladesh. Most starved to death or died from diseases. The traffickers controlling the camp took off into the jungle when police arrived, the advocacy group said.

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The Thailand-Malaysia border area known for its human trafficking trail and network of secret camps where smuggled migrants are imprisoned until relatives pay ransoms. The traffickers are known to operate with the support and protection of corrupt Thai officials. Last year, the U.S. State Department in its Trafficking in Persons Report downgraded the country to the worst possible ranking, tier 3, indicating the country makes little effort to deter human trafficking.

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