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Thai authorities investigating people-smuggling said six more bodies were found on Wednesday in the same patch of jungle bordering Malaysia where the remains of dozens of migrants were exhumed last week.
The latest bodies were discovered about one kilometre from the hillside site where the remains of 26 migrants, including Rohingya people from Burma, were found over the weekend, near the town of Padang Besar in the southern Thai province of Songkhla.
Hours later authorities released a statement saying 38 police officers in southern Thailand have been transferred from their positions – including more than a dozen from senior immigration roles.
The move takes the number of police transfers since last week’s grim discovery past 50 after an earlier spate of redeployment which comes as the ruling junta has vowed it is serious about tackling the kingdom’s spiralling trafficking crisis.
National police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri said the bodies of two men and four women had been found not far from where the mass grave had been exhumed at a suspected people smugglers camp.
“It was in a graveyard in a forest on the hillside… around one kilometre from the first camp,” he told AFP.
“They were old bodies,” Prawut said, referring to their state of decay.
A second senior police officer confirmed the find.
Thai authorities have not yet identified any of the remains, saying they are in a severe condition of decay.
The dead are believed to be migrants from Myanmar or Bangladesh. While forensic officers have yet to conclude the causes of death, police have speculated that they may have died from malnutrition or disease.
Five officials from Padang Besar have been charged with human trafficking while three more people are on the run, Prawut added.
Rights groups have long accused the Thai authorities of turning a blind eye to – and even being complicit in – people-smuggling.
In recent months the military junta, which took over in a coup last May, has vowed to crack down on the trade.
In January it said more than a dozen government officials – including senior policemen and a navy officer – were being prosecuted for involvement or complicity in human trafficking.
Wednesday’s police statement said 13 senior Thai police immigration officers were being transferred from the southern provinces of Songkhla, Satun and Ranong.
Another 25 police officers including senior officials would be moved from local stations in Songkhla and Ranong, it added, without elaborating on the details.
Tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims – mainly from Burma, officially known as Myanmar – have made the dangerous sea crossing to southern Thailand in recent years, with many trying to reach Malaysia and beyond.
But many are held captive by ruthless people-trafficking networks that demand thousands of dollars from their friends or family to release them.
On Tuesday anti-trafficking group Freeland said a recent investigation conducted by police and NGOs revealed traffickers were demanding around US$3,000 per migrant from family members, or selling them on to Malaysian farmers for $1,000 each.
The exodus of Rohingya – described by the UN as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities – has followed deadly communal unrest in western Burma’s Arakan State since 2012.
Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh – as well as Bangladeshi citizens – have also been kidnapped and trafficked to Thailand, after being duped with fake job offers or even drugged.
The recent crackdown – sparked by the arrest of an alleged major migrant kingpin known as “Anwar” – appears to have forced smugglers to switch tactics, emptying camps but leaving the weak behind to fend for themselves.
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, Wednesday called for “coordinated efforts by countries in the region” to prevent people-smuggling.