Authorities in Malaysia have discovered mass graves near camps run by people smugglers in the country's north. The finding comes after 26 bodies were exhumed from trafficking camps in neighboring Thailand.
Hundreds of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants abandoned by people smugglers at sea have been rescued and brought to Indonesia
Malaysian police said Sunday the graves were found near 17 abandoned detention camps, believed to be used by human traffickers to hold people fleeing Myanmar and Bangladesh.
"These graves are believed to be a part of human trafficking activities involving migrants," Home Minister Zahid Hamidi told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.
The minister did not say how many bodies had been recovered. He said the camps were around Klian Intan, close to the Thai border.
"They have been there for quite some time. I suspect the camps have been operating for at least five years," he said.
A police official told Reuters a team of commandos and forensic experts from Kuala Lumpur had been sent to the site, but it was not yet clear how many graves had been found. Local media reported that around 30 mass graves believed to contain hundreds of skeletal remains were found in two places in the northern state of Perlis.
Wave of boat people
The area on the Thai-Malaysia border is frequently used by traffickers seeking to smuggle Bangladeshis and Rohingya Muslims - a persecuted minority in Myanmar - to Southeast Asia by boat.
Earlier in May, Thai police discovered a series of jungle camps and graves containing 26 bodies on their side of the border in the southern Songkhla province.
The finding triggered a crackdown on traffickers in the Southeast Asian country, sending smuggling syndicates into disarray. As a result, traffickers started packing migrants into boats and abandoning them at sea.
Since the crackdown began, more than 3,500 mostly Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants have been picked up in boats off the coasts of Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, only to be later turned away by immigration authorities.
Amid an international outcry over their plight, Malaysia and Indonesia both agreed to take in so-called boat people if they could be resettled within a year.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Thursday pledged assistance and ordered the country's navy to rescue migrants stranded at sea. On Sunday, Indonesia announced that it too had launched a search and rescue operation.
Multilateral crisis talks on the humanitarian situation are expected to take place in Bangkok Friday.
nm/sms (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)