KUALA LUMPUR - Prime Minister Najib Razak said on Monday that Malaysia will find those responsible for the mass graves purportedly linked to human smuggling.
"I am deeply concerned with graves found on Malaysian soil purportedly connected to people smuggling. We will find those responsible,'' Najib wrote in a tweet.
Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi on Sunday confirmed the discovery of mass graves near 17 tents believed to have been used to accommodate refugees in Padang Besar.
"One grave probably has three, four bodies. So, we are still counting. The graves are in several areas including Wang Kelian and villages in the Thai border," The Star quoted the minister as saying. "With the help of the Thai authorities, I think we may find some more bodies."
"It looks like they have been here for quite some time. At least five years, I would say,'' he added.
Police will hold a news conference on Monday in Perlis.
The home minister said checks by the Immigration Department on the migrants who landed in Langkawi earlier this month suggest that the human trafficking racket was being run by Thais and recruitment agents from source countries such as Myanmar and Bangladesh, according to The Star.
But the discovery of the graves and camps on the Malaysian side of the border left little doubt that locals were involved too, he said.
"Malaysia as a government is not involved. But Malaysians, yes. I recognise that fact,'' he said.
Earlier this month, bodies were discovered in a human trafficking camp in Songkhla province, southern Thailand. Many were buried in shallow graves, while others were covered with blankets and clothes and left in the open, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Police reports indicated that the dead were ethnic Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar and Bangladesh who starved to death or died of disease while being held by traffickers who were awaiting payment of ransoms before smuggling them into Malaysia.
Traffickers controlling the camp apparently departed into the mountainous jungle, taking surviving Rohingya with them, HRW said.
A Thai crackdown on human trafficking following the discovery of the graves has led to traffickers abandoning ship and leaving thousands of Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution in Myanmar and Bangladeshi migrants stranded in the Andaman Sea.
Malaysia and Indonesia agreed on May 20 to provide humanitarian assistance to the 7,000 migrants still adrift at sea, including offering temporary shelter, provided that the international community takes steps to repatriate them within a year.