British police said they are undertaking the country's largest murder probe since 2005 to determine the identities and cause of death of 39 people, believed to be Chinese migrants, who were discovered in a truck.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a press briefing Friday in Beijing that Britain has not officially confirmed the identities or nationalities of 39 dead bodies, believed to be of Chinese migrants, discovered Wednesday in Britain.
"The British police are still in the intensive process of verification and are still unable to confirm at this moment," Hua said.
Emergency workers discovered the bodies on Wednesday morning, inside a refrigerated truck container at an industrial park in Grays in Essex, 20 miles (30 km) east of London.
On Friday, the Chinese Embassy in London said it had sent a team to Essex to meet with police and assist with the investigation.
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'Largest' murder investigation ever
Essex Police said the autopsies for some of the victims began Friday, adding that the process of identifying victims and determining the exact cause of death would take some time.
"This is the largest investigation of its kind Essex Police has ever had to conduct and it is likely to take some considerable time to come to a conclusion," Essex Chief Constable Ben-Julian Harrington said.
"We have since confirmed that eight of the deceased are women and 31 are men and all are believed to be Chinese nationals."
Essex Police, immigration officials and Britain's National Crime Agency said the murder investigation is the largest in Britain since the 2005 London terror attacks, which killed 52 people.
The investigation is focused on where the container was before it arrived at the industrial park in Grays. Police said the container traveled by ferry from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge to Purfleet, England.
The truck driver suspect, a 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland, was arrested Thursday on suspicion of murder.
British authorities also confirmed on Friday that they had arrested a further three people in connection with the deaths. Police said a man and a woman, both aged 38, had been detained on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and of 39 counts of manslaughter. A Northern Irish man was later arrested on the same charges at London Stansted airport.
China calls for punishment
China on Friday also called for more international efforts to counter human trafficking.
"No matter where these victims came from, this is a great tragedy which has drawn the attention of the international community to the issue of illegal immigration," said Hua.
Chinese state media Global Times published an editorial Friday calling for Europe and Britain to accept responsibility for the deaths.
"We hope that Britain and European countries will put their commitments to human rights into effect and make due efforts for Chinese people to be free from abuse and sudden death."
The editorial called on Britain to seek "severe punishment" for those involved in the deaths.
Possible Vietnamese victims
Up to 10 of the victims might have originally come from Vietnam, according to unconfirmed reports. A human rights activist said on Friday afternoon that one of the victims may have been Pham Thi Tra My.
Tra My, 26, sent a text message to her mother saying she was struggling to breathe at roughly the same time as the lorry was en route from Belgium to the UK, Hoa Nghiem from Human Rights Space, a civic network based in Vietnam, said.
"It was told on the news that all 39 people were Chinese but Tra My's family is trying to verify if their daughter was among them," she tweeted.
Meanwhile, the Vietnamese Embassy in London said it was coordinating with British authorities over the matter, Vietnamese media reported.
jsi, wmr/rt (Reuters, AP, AFP, APE)