Posted: 24 May 2015 08:02 AM PDT
KUALA LUMPUR — Mass graves and suspected human trafficking detention camps have been discovered by Malaysian police in towns and villages bordering Thailand, the country's home minister said on Sunday.
Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said officials are determining whether the graves were of human trafficking victims, but did not say how many dead bodies were discovered.
"This is still under investigation," he told reporters at the sidelines of an event in Kuala Lumpur.
According to media reports, the mass graves were believed to contain bodies of hundreds of migrants from Burma and Bangladesh.
Police discovered 30 large graves containing the remains of hundreds of people in two places in the northern state of Perlis, which borders Thailand, the Utusan Malaysia newspaper reported.
The Star newspaper reported on its website that nearly 100 bodies were found in one grave on Friday.
"I reckon it was a preliminary finding and eventually I think the number would be more than that," Ahmad Zahid said when asked about reports of the number of mass graves discovered.
Ahmad Zahid said that the camps identified are in the areas of Klian Intan and villages near the border.
"They have been there for quite some time. I suspect the camps have been operating for at least five years," he said.
A police spokeswoman declined to comment saying a news conference on the issue would be held on Monday.
A police official who declined to be identified said police commandos and forensic experts from the capital, Kuala Lumpur, were at the site but it was not clear how many graves and bodies had been found.
"Of course I believe that there are Malaysians involved," Ahmad Zahid said, when asked on possible involvement of locals in the incident.
Northern Malaysia is on a route for smugglers bringing people to Southeast Asia by boat from Burma, most of them stateless Rohingya Muslims, who say they are fleeing persecution, and people from Bangladesh seeking work.
Smugglers have also used southern Thailand and Utusan Malaysia and police believe the discovery had a connection to mass graves found on the Thai side of the border earlier this month.
Twenty-six bodies were exhumed from a grave in Thailand's Songkhla province, over the border from Perlis, near a camp with suspected links to human trafficking.
More than 3,000 migrants, most of them from Burma and Bangladesh, have landed on boats in Malaysia and Indonesia this month after a crackdown on trafficking in Thailand.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Thursday pledged assistance and ordered the navy to rescue thousands adrift at sea.
The post Mass Graves of Suspected Trafficking Victims Found in Malaysia appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 24 May 2015 12:24 AM PDT
RANGOON — Burma's president has signed off on a law requiring some mothers to space their children three years apart despite objections by a visiting senior US diplomat and rights activists, who worry it could be used not only to repress women, but also religious and ethnic minorities.
The Population Control Health Care Bill—drafted under pressure from hard-line Buddhist monks with a staunchly anti-Muslim agenda—was passed by parliamentarians this month.
US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he warned Burma's leaders during face-to-face talks last week about the dangers of the bill. On Saturday, hours after the diplomat left, state-run media announced President Thein Sein had signed it into law.
As predominantly Buddhist Burma started moving from dictatorship to democracy four years ago, newfound freedoms of expression lifted the lid on deep-seeded hatred for minority Muslims—including Rohingya Muslims now arriving on Southeast Asian shores in crowded, rickety boats.
Many are fleeing persecution and violence that has left up to 280 people dead and forced another 140,000 from their homes in western Arakan State. They are living under apartheid-like conditions in dusty, crowded camps, with little access to education or adequate medical care. They also have little freedom of movement, having to pay hefty bribes if they want to pass police barricades, even for emergencies.
The population law—which carries no punitive measures—gives regional authorities the power to implement birth-spacing guidelines in areas with high rates of population growth.
Though the government says the law is aimed at bringing down maternal and infant mortality rates, activists argue that it steps on women's reproductive rights and can be used to suppress the growth of marginalized groups.
Hard-line Buddhists have repeatedly warned that Muslims, with their high birthrates, could take over the country of 50 million even though they currently represent less than 10 percent of the population.
"It's very disappointing," Khin Lay, a women's rights activist, said of the president's decision to sign off on the law. "If the government wants to protect women, they should strengthen laws already in place to do that."
Blinken, who met with Thein Sein, the army's commander in chief and other top government officials during a two-day visit to Burma, said he expressed "deep concern" about the law and three others in the assembly aimed at protecting race and religion.
"The legislation contains provisions that can be enforced in a manner that would undermine reproductive rights, women's rights and religious freedom," Blinken told reporters on Friday. "We shared the concerns that these bills can exacerbate ethic and religious divisions and undermine the country's efforts to promote tolerance and diversity."
The post Burma President Signs Off on Contested Population Law appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
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