BANGKOK (Reuters) - A second suspected human trafficking camp has been discovered in southern Thailand, police said on Tuesday, following a search of a mountainside where 26 bodies were found in shallow graves at the weekend.
The 26 bodies, believed to be illegal migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh, were found at a suspected human trafficking camp hidden deep in the jungle in Thailand’s Songkhla province near the Malaysian border.
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.
Many illegal migrants in Thailand are Rohingya Muslims from western Myanmar and from Bangladesh who brave often perilous journeys by sea to escape religious and ethnic persecution.
Thousands arrive every year in predominantly Buddhist Thailand, brought by smugglers. Many are then taken into 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 the second camp had been found on the same mountain. It housed eight bamboo shelters, three sleeping tents and two makeshift kitchens.
Authorities found three people near the camp on Monday looking malnourished and exhausted, Triwit said, adding 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.
An EU spokeswoman in Brussels said there were “deeply troubling” reports about abuse of Rohingyas, including beatings, detention in camps for ransom, forced labor on fishing vessels and burials in a mass grave.
She said the EU had discussed human trafficking with Thailand on various occasions and urged it to step up efforts to combat it.
Last June, the U.S. State Department downgraded Thailand to its lowest rank in a survey of countries’ efforts to eliminate human trafficking, exposing the key regional U.S. ally to the possibility of sanctions.
Additional reporting by Adrian Croft in Brussels; Editing by Tom Heneghan