KUALA LUMPUR: “Do you want to know what really happened in Wang Kelian?”
The voice at the other end of the line spoke in a hushed tone, but the timbre betrayed the deep sense of helplessness.
It took a while to process every lurid detail that came pouring out. It almost didn’t make sense.
The New Straits Times Special Probes Team spent the next two years digging up the darkest, deepest secrets that had long been buried in the quiet hills of Wang Kelian.
Various sources with direct involvement and knowledge of this crime against humanity, which saw more than 150 innocent lives snuffed out, came forward with the real stories.
Their stories matched — right down to the minutest of details.
Their willingness to open up was a desperate act of clearing their conscience.
It was a burden of guilt. Of knowing. A burden they refused to carry to their graves.
Their version of what transpired will likely be disputed. But there is always the right of reply that the team is more than willing to take up.
They spoke about a time in early January 2015, when several personnel with the General Operations Force (GOF) manning the border, noticed something that seemed out of place in an area that was supposed to be uninhabited.
Having noticed the presence of foam, the smell of detergent and waste flowing downstream where they clean up after a patrol, they alerted their superior of their observations.
They were told not to worry about it. They figured a more attentive pair of ears would probably be more interested to hear them out, and shared their concerns with other cops.
On Jan 19, an operation was mounted at 11.45am, in connection with the Wang Burma case.
About five hours later, they came down the hill with 38 paperless migrants.
One would assume that a massive sweep of Wang Kelian would be launched to ascertain if there were more human trafficking camps. It is only fair to think that.
So, it is hard to explain why it was only on March 13 that an assault team was brought in, in the middle of the night, on a seek-and-capture mission — at a totally different site in Bukit Genting Perah.
This camp has since been known as one of the biggest human trafficking base camps up in the Nakawan range bordering Thailand. The assault team had been carrying out a sustained surveillance of the area. The tell-tale signs were easy to spot. Where no signs of life were expected, they saw a light trail.
They knew it was the path the victims took to freedom — after they had paid the syndicates, of course. This is the same trail that the authorities, who were later sent in to process the camp, widened to allow a massive clean-up and bring down some of the remains they found in more than 139 graves.
To cut a long story short, the NST Special Probes Team was told that the special strike team hauled in five men believed to be members of a human trafficking syndicate (In an operation carried out on Aug 12, VAT69 commandos and the Perlis Special Branch discovered 20 graves and 24 remains from another camp not far from the ones earlier discovered. Only 18 of the graves had human remains in them, while six skeletons were found inside huts made of bamboo and wood.)
Our team took the trail up to Bukit Genting Perah.
Halfway the two-hour hike up the steep and slippery hill, we stopped to document and photograph a line of now-empty graves.
As the camps began to come into view, we saw an observation post at the entrance. They were facing Malaysia. Not one was built facing the Thai side. There were many more unmarked graves surrounding the camp site.
One could only imagine the suffering hundreds of migrants went through on our soil.
Nothing will be learned about the ordeal suffered by those who died as none of their identities had been established to date. Many of their loved ones back home will be left wondering if they ever made it alive, to a better life.
Authorities on the Thai side had made arrests, including the mayor of Padang Besar.
The Thais also issued around 30 arrest warrants and transferred out 38 senior police, Immigration and marine police officers suspected of having knowledge of the crime, or were involved in it.