Second suspected human trafficking camp found in Thai south
It housed eight bamboo shelters, three sleeping tents and two makeshift kitchens.
BANGKOK - A second suspected human trafficking camp has been discovered in Thailand near the Malaysian border, police said on Tuesday, following a search by authorities of a mountain where 26 bodies were found in shallow graves at the weekend.
The 26 bodies are believed to be illegal migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh and were found at a suspected human trafficking camp hidden deep in the jungle in Thailand's southern Songkhla province.
Illegal migrants, many of them Rohingya Muslims from western Myanmar and from Bangladesh, brave often perilous journeys by sea to escape religious and ethnic persecution.
Every year, thousands arrive in predominantly Buddhist Thailand, brought by smugglers. Many are taken by road to camps in the jungle, where traffickers demand a ransom to smuggle them south across the border to mainly Muslim Malaysia.
On Monday, Thai police announced charges including human trafficking and holding people for ransom against a Rohingya man and three local government administrators. They said another four Thais were being sought.
Police Colonel Triwit Sriprapa, deputy commander of Songkhla Provincial Police, told Reuters on Tuesday a second camp had been found on the same mountain. It housed eight bamboo shelters, three sleeping tents and two makeshift kitchens.
Police Lieutenant General Prawut Thavornsiri, national police spokesman, said what appeared to be four or five graves were found at the second camp but authorities have yet to uncover any bodies.
Authorities found three people near the camp on Monday looking malnourished and exhausted, Triwit said, adding that the camp looked like it had recently been abandoned.
"We think this camp probably moved from a different location once the traffickers were tipped off that authorities were searching for more camps on this mountain range," he said.
More than a dozen police officers have been transferred and are under investigation for their involvement in a human trafficking ring related to the ongoing case, added Prawut.
Thailand, a regional hub for human trafficking, is under pressure from the United States and European Union to stamp out human smuggling, trafficking and slavery.
Last June, the United States (US) State Department downgraded Thailand to its lowest rank in a survey of countries' efforts to eliminate human trafficking, placing it alongside states such as North Korea, Syria and Uzbekistan.
A bottom-tier ranking exposes Thailand, a key US ally in Southeast Asia, to the possibility of sanctions in addition to those imposed since a military coup in the country last year, although these steps have so far been largely symbolic.