By Amy Sawitta Lefevre
BANGKOK (Reuters) - A second suspected human trafficking camp has been discovered in southern Thailand, police said on Tuesday, following a search by authorities of a mountain where 26 bodies were found in shallow graves at the weekend.
The 26 bodies are believed to be illegal migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh and were found at a suspected human trafficking camp hidden deep in the jungle in Thailand's southern Songkhla province near the Malaysian border.
Illegal migrants, many of them Rohingya Muslims from western Myanmar and from Bangladesh, brave often perilous journeys by sea to escape religious and ethnic persecution. Every year, thousands arrive in Thailand, brought by smugglers. Many are taken by road to camps in the jungle, where traffickers demand a ransom to smuggle them south across the border to Malaysia.
On Monday, Thai police announced charges including human trafficking and holding people for ransom against a Rohingya man and three local government administrators. They said another four Thais were being sought.
Police Colonel Triwit Sriprapa, deputy commander of Songkhla Provincial Police, told Reuters on Tuesday a second camp had been found on the same mountain. It housed eight bamboo shelters, including three sleeping tents, two makeshift kitchens and a rudimentary toilet,
No graves have been found at the second camp so far.
Authorities found three people near the camp on Monday looking malnourished and exhausted, he said, adding that the camp looked like it had recently been abandoned.
"Looking at the state of the camp it was probably evacuated recently and looking at some of the wood cut in the camp it was probably cut in the last seven days," Triwit said by telephone.
"We think this camp probably moved from a different location once the traffickers were tipped off that authorities were searching for more camps on this mountain range."
Thailand, a regional hub for human trafficking, is under pressure from the United States and European Union to stamp out human smuggling, trafficking and slavery.
Last June, the U.S. State Department downgraded Thailand to its lowest rank in a survey of countries' efforts to eliminate human trafficking, placing it alongside states such as North Korea, Syria and Uzbekistan.
A bottom-tier ranking exposes Thailand, a key U.S. ally in Southeast Asia, to the possibility of sanctions in addition to those imposed since a military coup in the country last year, although these steps have so far been largely symbolic.
(Editing by Jeremy Laurence)