Malaysia clears grave sites as Thais seek migrant boats

Malaysia clears grave sites as Thais seek migrant boats

Malaysia clears grave sites as Thais seek migrant boats

Malaysian police today began the grisly task of clearing dozens of grave sites in suspected people-smuggling camps today, as Thai aircraft searched for thousands of migrants still believed  stranded in the Andaman Sea.

Malaysian police say a total of 139 grave sites were found near 28 abandoned camps close to the Thai border, the latest grim turn in Southeast Asia's migrant crisis. More than 3,500 Bangladeshi economic migrants and stateless Rohingya from Myanmar have arrived on Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian soil in recent weeks.

South Africa's Archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu called Tuesday for international aid to Myanmar to be linked to the plight of its persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority, who have fled the country in droves.

"We have a responsibility... to adopt a common position making funding the development of Myanmar conditional on the restoration of citizenship, nationality, and basic human rights to the Rohingya," he told an Oslo conference.

Myanmar's government sees its 1.3 million Rohingya as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, denying most of them citizenship. A rally by Buddhist nationalists is planned Wednesday in Yangon to protest against international pressure to provide aid to them.

The fate of those who decide to flee was brought into sharp focus at one of the dozens of remote people-smuggling camps in northern Malaysia Tuesday. Reporters saw police dig up a grave, pulling out a corpse apparently wrapped in a Muslim shroud. "We have found 37 graves (at the one camp) but we have only recovered one body so far," said local police official Muhammad Bahar Alias.

The mountain camp seemed largely to have been picked clean of most evidence indicating what went on there, but on the ground lay a human lower jaw with several teeth still in it.

The discovery of similar sites in Thailand in early May prompted a Thai police crackdown that severely disrupted the steady flow of migrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar down through Thailand and across the land border into Malaysia.

That left boats loaded with hundreds of starving migrants stuck at sea, though Malaysia and Indonesia recently agreed to let vessels land safely following an international outcry.
Malaysian police said it remained unclear how many bodies were buried in the inaccessible corner of mountainous jungle just a few hundred metres from Thailand.

But the findings appeared to indicate a system of camps and graves larger than those over the border. Before the discovery of the graves, government officials had dismissed the suggestion that such sites existed on Malaysian soil.