Bodies unearthed among hundreds of graves found on a people trafficking route in Malaysia showed signs of torture, police said yesterday.
Malaysian police said metal chains had been found near some of the burial sites, suggesting some of the dead had been kept prisoner, although they did not elaborate on what methods of torture may have been used.
The discovery of the shallow graves on the border with Thailand was the second in a month. At the beginning of May, the skeletons of 33 migrants were found in a bamboo forest at an abandoned smuggling compound.
Detectives said that a total of 139 suspected migrant grave sites had been found in 28 people-trafficking camps along a 30-mile stretch of the Thai border.
Khalid Abu Bakar, Malaysia's national police chief, said some of the graves probably contained more than one body, raising the possibility the number of dead could run into hundreds. The largest of the camps, which were found between May 11 and 23 in remote mountain jungle, could have held up to 300 people, according to Malaysian officials.
Mr Khalid said ammunition was also found in the vicinity of the latest discovery. "We were shocked by the cruelty," he said. "We are working closely with our counterparts in Thailand. We will find the people who did this."
The dead are believed to be mainly Bangladeshi migrants and Rohingya Muslims fleeing Burma, where they face persecution at the hands of the country's Buddhist majority.
Thousands are ferried by traffickers through the region each year, but in recent years traffickers have taken to holding them hostage around the border areas until their families pay ransoms, which can range up to the equivalent of €1,600, for their release.
Human rights groups say that most are in such desperate circumstances that they have little choice but to comply. They have also accused local officials of turning a blind eye to the trade in return for backhanders.
Thailand has taken into custody or issued arrest warrants for nearly 80 people in connection with the smuggling.
"In Thailand what we've seen is local politicians and police being arrested. That's a first step," said Philip Robertson, deputy Asia director with Human Rights Watch.
"But they're not getting to the real masterminds. And I'm expecting that we may see the same on the Malaysian side, as well, that a few low-level scapegoats will be rounded up to take the blame for what was happening here." (© Daily Telegraph, London)