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Malaysia indicts four Thais over mass graves, trafficking camps

In 2015 the jungles along the Malaysia-Thai border contained graves – mainly of Rohingya refugees.

Four Thai nationals will be charged under Malaysia’s anti-trafficking laws over mass graves and transit camps for refugees found in the mountains and remote jungles along the Thai-Malaysian border more than eight years ago.

The men, aged between 30 and 58, appeared in court in Kangar, Malaysia’s northern state of Perlis, on Friday morning, Harian Metro newspaper reported.

The first mass grave – containing more than 30 bodies – was discovered in April 2015 near the town of Wang Kelian in makeshift camps set up by people smugglers brought across the border. After intense searches, dozens more graves were found – many of them Rohingya refugees from Myanmar and multiple bodies.

Thailand and Malaysia conducted a joint investigation into the camps, and in 2017 Thailand indicted 62 defendants, including nine government officials, for the deaths and trafficking of Rohingyas and Bangladeshis to Malaysia via Thailand.

Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail said the four Thais were extradited on Thursday and were among 10 people Malaysia sought extradition in 2017.

In a statement on Thursday, he said Malaysia is “committed to maintaining border security and takes seriously the issues of cross-border crime, especially human trafficking and migrant smuggling”.

Malaysia set up a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) to investigate the tragedy in 2019, with 48 witnesses testifying.

The investigation found that while no Malaysian enforcement officers, civil servants or local citizens were involved in the smuggling syndicate, there was “gross negligence” on the part of border patrols who failed to notice the camps.

An independent report by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) and Fortify Rights found “reasonable grounds” to believe that a human trafficking syndicate committed crimes against humanity against Rohingya men, women and children in Malaysia and Thailand from 2012 to 2015.

The report also highlighted how the syndicate tricked Rohingya from Myanmar’s northwestern Rakhine state into boarding ships bound for Thailand and Malaysia and mistreated them during the voyage.

Myanmar stripped the Rohingya of their citizenship in a 1982 law, and amid rising violence in Rakhine, many have tried to cross to Malaysia, seen as a friendly Muslim-majority country.

In 2017, millions of Rohingya fled across the border into Bangladesh amid a brutal military crackdown that is now the subject of a genocide investigation at the International Court of Justice.

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