KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia said yesterday that it had found mass graves believed to contain the bodies of Bangladeshi and Rohingya migrants in the border town of Padang Besar in Perlis state.
Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar, who confirmed the news, is expected to hold a press conference today to throw more light on the grisly discovery.
Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was quoted by The Star newspaper as saying the graves were found near suspected detention camps run by people traffickers.
"But we don't know how many there are. We are probably going to find more bodies," he said.
While The Star report gave few details, the Malay-language newspaper Utusan Malaysia, citing an unnamed source, said about 30 mass graves had been found containing "hundreds of skeletons".
The Star, also quoting sources, said the graves were "believed to contain nearly 100 Rohingya migrants". Police and forensic teams had been at the scene since last Friday, it added.
Early this month, Thai police found secret human-trafficking jungle camps on their side of the border and dozens of shallow graves. The Thai authorities then launched a crackdown on human trafficking, which appears to have thrown regional trafficking routes into chaos.
Malaysia's Home Ministry had previously denied there were holding camps and mass graves on its side of the border with Thailand.
"I am shocked!" Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid was quoted as saying by The Star. He added that some of the camps might have been there for as long as five years and Malaysian citizens were suspected to have been involved.
Many migrants had previously tried to enter Malaysia, their favoured destination, via its land border with Thailand.
With traffickers apparently now abandoning their human cargo at sea, boats filled with hundreds of starving migrants from Myanmar and Bangla-desh have sought desperately to land in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, which turned them away.
But Malaysia and Indonesia, in a policy U-turn, announced last week that they would accept boat people for one year, or until they could be resettled or repatriated with the help of international agencies.
More than 1.3 million Muslim Rohingya live in Myanmar's western Rakhine state. Many flee the country to escape discriminatory treatment and persecution from the Buddhist majority.
Myanmar insists the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denies citizenship to most of them.
Most of the Bangladeshis are economic migrants seeking to escape poverty at home.
More than 7,000 boat people are thought to be still at sea, with perilous summer monsoon weather due to arrive.
Meanwhile, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina yesterday warned that Bangladeshis who try to move to other countries illegally would be punished alongside the middlemen.
"They are tainting the image of the country along with pushing their life into danger," she was quoted as saying by the state-run BSS news agency.
Sources: The Star, AFP, Bloomberg, Xinhua