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Border camp horrors revealed, official arrested (UPDATED)

Bangkok Post - 4 May 2015 - The former president of the Rohingya Association of Thailand says the camp and graveyard found in Songkhla is just the tip of the iceberg. He estimates there are at least 60 such camps in the Malaysian border area. Meanwhile a local official has been arrested.

The former president of the Rohingya Association of Thailand says the camp and graveyard found in Songkhla is just the tip of the iceberg. He estimates there are at least 60 such camps in the Malaysian border area. Meanwhile a local official has been arrested.

Arrest in in Rohingya graveyard case

Police have arrested a local tambon municipal councillor and are looking for five other people allegedly involved in the deaths of many Rohingya people found buried in Songkhla province.

National police chief Somyot Pumpunmuang said on Monday the arrested suspect was a municipal councillor of tambon Padang Besar in Songkhla's Sadao district.

The suspect is one of three people facing arrest warrants. Police were seeking warrants for the arrest of three more suspects, including government officials, Pol Gen Somyot said.

"The prime minister (Prayut Chan-o-cha) just phoned me again and ordered me to be there to follow up the case. All people involved will be arrested and no one will be spared. This issue is causing a great problem to the nation," the national police chief said before his flight to Songkhla on Monday morning.

Muslims in the South have arranged coffins and a mass funeral at Hat Yai district for 20 of the 26 remains recovered from the mass grave discovered last Friday in nearby Sa Dao district of Songkhla province in the South.

Detention camp horrors grow

Trafficking problem huge, Rohingya say

Thousands of Rohingya people who are possibly victims of human trafficking are being kept in at least 60 detention camps scattered throughout mountains along the Thai-Malaysian border, says a former president of the Rohingya Association of Thailand.

"The discovery of the detention camp [last Friday at Ban Taloh in tambon Padang Besar of Songkhla's Sadao district] is just the tip of the iceberg. Currently there are at least 60 detention camps along the Thai-Malaysian border," Abdul Kalam told the Bangkok Post Sunday, adding that about 150-800 refugees are being held in each camp.

Most of the camps are situated on the Malaysian side, he said.

Pol Gen Chakthip Chaichinda, deputy national police chief, assigned by national police chief Pol Gen Somyot Pumpunmuang to lead a human trafficking investigation in the South, said he will meet investigators in Hat Yai district of Songkhla today to verify the number of camps in the area.

"According to the information I have obtained there are many detention camps along the Thai-Malaysian border," Pol Gen Chakthip said.

Lt-Gen Prakarn Chonlayuth, commander of the 4th Army Region, said he will ask Malaysia to conduct more patrols along the border to suppress human trafficking.

Meanwhile, Mr Kalam attended the burial ceremony of 20 of the 26 bodies recovered from graves in tambon Padang Besar of Songkhla's Sadao district.

The burial was held at a Muslim cemetery in Hat Yai district.

The bodies of the others are being kept at Songklanagarind Hospital in Hat Yai district for autopsies.

Mr Kalam said he knew of the detention camps from two Rohingya compatriots, whom he helped to escape from a human trafficking network after they fled a detention camp last month.

The men, aged 23 and 30, were lured into a human trafficking network from their homes in Myanmar's Rakhine state.

When they arrived in Thailand a few years ago, they were brought to a detention camp in tambon Padang Besar of Songkhla's Sadao district.

The men said that they were beaten by members of a human trafficking network and forced to work under slave conditions while waiting for ransom money to come in from their relatives in Myanmar.

The governments of Thailand and Malaysia need to work together to solve the problem and take legal action against all those involved, regardless of whether they are state officials or civilians, Mr Kalam said.

He played a recording of the voice of 28-year-old Tunusar, a survivor of a death camp for human trafficking victims in the jungle in Songkhla.

He interviewed Mr Tunusar, who was bed-ridden at Padang Besar hospital in Sadao district, on Saturday.

Mr Tunusar was held captive at the camp for nine months after being kidnapped from his hometown in Bangladesh and brought by boat to a jungle camp in Thailand.

"I saw at least 40 people die while I was staying at the camp. Ten were Bangladeshis and the others were from Myanmar or Rohingya. They died because of malnutrition, starvation or being beaten to death," Mr Tunusar said on the clip.

"I want to go home to Bangladesh," he said.

The brokers controlling the camp were men named Hayi, Amartali, Arnua, Saw Lim, Rana and Heidra, he said. He was beaten many times after the brokers called his mother in Bangladesh and learned she didn't have the money to pay his ransom.

Another Rohingya man who was previously jailed at the camp, who wishes not to be named, recounted the horrors he saw to police Sunday.

He said a Rohingya man named Kasim was killed by Mr Arnua, a well-known Rohingya trafficking broker, at the camp.

Mr Arnua used a heavy stick to beat Kasim, the nephew of a Rohingya man named Kuramia, to death.

Nakhon Si Thammarat police said Mr Arnua had abducted Kasim and demanded a 95,000-baht ransom, but the nephew was not freed after the money was sent.

Mr Arnua then demanded another 120,000 baht, prompting Mr Kuramia to go to the police, which prompted Mr Arnua to kill the nephew, they said.

Police arrested Mr Arnua in Muang district on Wednesday and charged him with fraud and kidnapping. They are gathering evidence to prosecute him for human trafficking.

Mr Kuramia had feared his nephew was killed and buried in tambon Padang Besar in Songkhla's Sadao district, which led to the police's discovery of the graves on Friday, police said.

The witness also told reporters that his mother in Myanmar paid ransom money of 6,000 Malaysian ringgit (55,250 baht) to free him from the camp prior to its discovery by authorities.

While in the camp, the witness heard news of more than 500 deaths in similar camps along the Thai-Malaysian border.

Sunday morning update

Rescue workers and forensic officials dig out a skeleton from a shallow grave covered by bamboo at the site of a mass grave at an abandoned jungle camp in the Sadao district of Thailand's southern Songkhla province bordering Malaysia on May 2, 2015. AFP PHOTO / Jerome TAYLOR

Death camp 'held 800 refugees'

Two teenagers found in remote jungle near the site of a mass grave in Songkhla province yesterday revealed that at least 800 refugees were being held in the camp prior to its discovery by authorities.

The two youths, aged 14 and 17, said they had been held at the camp for eight months, and that the prisoners had been dispersed shortly before officers moved in on Friday.

It came as early reports began to emerge of the horrific conditions endured by prisoners being held at the remote border camp, where 26 bodies have now been recovered mostly from shallow graves.

“We were the people who could not pay the ransom so they kept us and did not really care whether we lived or died,” 28-year-old survivor Anuzar, who was found at the grave site on Friday, told news website Phuketwan.

“Most of us have been beaten or abused … In the camp, we were never able to get enough food or water. Showering seldom happened.”

Anuzar said he believed 10 Bangladeshis were among the dead scattered near the camp, along with at least 30 Rohingya.

“Eight brokers controlled the camp,” Anuzar said. “I knew three well — Ahmed Ali, Anwar and Sorim-Ida. Some are Rohingya, some are Malaysian.”

Saturday update

Digging has continued today. Here is the lastest from AFP

Thai forensics exhume 3 more skeletons

Padang Besar, Thailand, May 2, 2015, AFP – The badly decayed remains of at least three more migrants thought to be from Myanmar or Bangladesh were exhumed Saturday from a mass grave in southern Thailand, as details emerged of the maltreatment endured at the remote people smugglers' camp.

Thai forensic teams dug out the latest skeletons from shallow graves covered by bamboo and few of feet of dirt on Saturday afternoon, according to an AFP reporter at the abandoned jungle camp in Sadao district, in Songkhla province.

The badly decayed remains of at least three more migrants thought to be from Myanmar or Bangladesh were exhumed on May 2 from a mass grave in southern Thailand AFP PHOTO / Madaree TOHLALA

Authorities have found the remains of least eight people since Friday's grim discovery of the site, a find which has again laid bare Thailand's central role in a regional human trafficking trade.

Two survivors – men aged 25 and 35 – told doctors they had spent months at the camp despite falling sick and having little to eat.

"Both are malnourished, have scabies and lice," doctor Kwanwilai Chotpitchayanku told AFP at Padang Besar hospital.

"The older man could not walk, he had to be carried off the mountain. He hadn't eaten anything for two days before he was found. He told the translator he had a fever in the jungle for two months."

Doctors said the men had not been fully identified but were from either Bangladesh or Myanmar.

Both were rigged to IV drips and appeared frail as they lay in their ward beds.

Earlier story

At least 32 graves have been found and four bodies suspected to be of Rohingya migrants removed from an abandoned jungle camp in Padang Besar in Sadao district of Songkhla province. WICHAYANT BOONCHOTE

‘Rohingya’ graves found

Thai human trafficking record dealt fresh blow

At least 32 graves were discovered yesterday at what is thought to be a human-trafficking camp near the Malaysian border.

Four bodies exhumed from graves were suspected to be Rohingya Muslim refugees.

A team of more than 100 police and military officers, local officials, forensic officials and rescue workers examined the remote camp atop Khao Kaew mountain in tambon Padang Besar in Songkhla’s Sadao district.

It is only 300 metres from the northern Malaysian state of Perlis.

Located in the jungle on the mountain, the camp covers about two rai. Of the 39 structures built in the camp, 26 are sleeping quarters, and the rest are kitchens, bathrooms and an observation tower, police said.

Rescue workers and forensic officials inspect the site of a mass grave uncovered at an abandoned jungle camp in the Sadao district of Thailand's southern Songkhla province bordering Malaysia on May 1, 2015. The border area with Malaysia is notorious for its network of secret camps where smuggled migrants are held, usually against their will until relatives pay up hefty ransoms. AFP PHOTO

The camp is old and has been in use for a long time, according to police.

Authorities also found an area covering one rai about 50 metres from the camp.

The area was cleared of trees and used as a graveyard with about 30 old and new graves.

A search of the camp found a dead man identified as Kutansa who was believed to have been dead for a few days. Police also found an ill migrant and took him to Padang Besar hospital.

Forensic officers collected used clothes and other equipment left at the scene for evidence in any police investigation.

Rescue workers dug up five graves, but found only four bodies. Officers believe the bodies had been in the graves for several days as they were decaying.

Rescue workers carry a body uncovered at the site of a mass grave. AFP PHOTO

Digging was suspended until the appropriate authorities are sent in to verify the identity of all the bodies in the graves. The four bodies have been sent to Songklanagarind Hospital to be identified.

Pol Maj Gen Ekkaphob Prasitwatthanachai, deputy chief of the Provincial Police Region 9, said that at this stage authorities cannot tell how many bodies are buried in the more than 30 graves that have been found.

The Police General Hospital’s Institute of Forensics has been asked to send officials to help, Pol Maj Gen Ekkaphob said.

He said that maybe fatigue or illness could have caused the deaths while the suspected refugees stayed at the camp waiting to be sent to other countries.

Pol Maj Gen Thawatchai Pitaneelabutr, commander of the Immigration Division 6, said there are three human-trafficking groups involved in smuggling of Rohingya refugees in Songkhla.

The groups only smuggle in the refugees and put them in the camp temporarily before sending them to third countries, Pol Maj Gen Thawatchai said, adding that police already have information about the groups.

National police chief Pol Gen Somyot Pumpunmuang said the discovery of the graveyard was made after a follow-up on the arrest of Rohingya refugees in Nakhon Si Thammarat on Jan 11.

He had received reports from Songkhla provincial police and soldiers of a number of graves at the remote camp. Pol Gen Somyot said the smugglers were believed to include Myanmar, Thai and Malaysian nationals, who take Rohingya migrants to the camp before moving them across the border.

He said the camp is so close to the border that authorities are trying to determine whether it actually resides on Thai or Malaysian soil.

The discovery has dealt a blow to Thailand’s human trafficking record.

Last year, Thailand was downgraded to the lowest tier tier on the US State Department’s influential Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, which annually ranks countries by their efforts to combat trafficking.

The government forwarded its progress report to US authorities on March 31 to provide details about the country’s efforts to combat human trafficking with the hope that the US will upgrade the country to Tier 2.

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