Crossing illegally into Malaysia from Thailand so simple, reporter tells mass graves RCI

Former Malay Mail journalist Arulldas Sinnappan (right) and photographer Mohd Sayuti Zainuddin, who testified at the RCI on mass graves and human trafficking camps in Perlis today.

PUTRAJAYA: Two witnesses told the royal commission of inquiry (RCI) into the discovery of mass graves and human trafficking camps in Perlis that they were able to easily cross over into Malaysia from the Thai side of the border when looking for mass graves on top of Wang Burma hill.

Former Malay Mail journalist Arulldas Sinnappan, the first to publicise the jungle camps at the border, said he went to the mass graves site by climbing up the hill from Thailand on May 13, 2015.

“I went through Thailand. Earlier, I went five or six times alone through Wang Kelian (in Perlis), but I failed and dared not go alone,” he said, adding that the hill on Malaysia’s side of the border was steep and dangerous.

However, the climb from the Thai side was easier. When he climbed to the border, he found only a stretch of barbed wire meant to mark the Malaysia-Thailand border.

“There was no fencing, only a border stone. The barbed wire had also been recently placed. The place was open. You could just walk into Malaysia.”

Arull, the 21st witness to take the stand, had been covering the influx of illegal immigrants into Malaysia and alleged human trafficking syndicates since 2014.

Now a freelance journalist, he said he first started covering the issue following the discovery of dead bodies in plantations, bushes and cemeteries in Penang where he was based.

Arull was guided to the site on top of the hill by two Thai men he had met at Hat Yai in Thailand while covering a related press conference.

The press conference was held by the then Thai deputy inspector-general of police on the discovery of human trafficking camps and mass graves on the Thai side of the border on May 9, 2015.

He said that at the time, the Thai authorities had rescued 200 to 300 people in a village near the border.

“I met them at the Thai police headquarters at Hat Yai (during the press conference). They willingly said they were ready to help,” he said, adding that one of them was called “Daud”.

He said despite not knowing them well, he had trusted them to guide him to the location.

“I took the risk. I didn’t pay them,” he said.

The Thai men took him and his photographer – 22nd witness Mohd Sayuti Zainuddin – in a four-wheel drive to the foot of the hill, from where they hiked to the top for close to two hours.

He said they followed a path which led them to the camp, which he claimed had been there for 10 or 15 years.

At the top of the hill, he saw a pond with “black-coloured dirty water”.

“After that we walked up and saw the mass graves. I was shocked. I never expected it,” he said, adding that he had counted more than 15.

He said they later found an abandoned camp site about 100 to 200m away from the pond.

“We did not have time to explore so much. We wanted to come back before dark, so we just wanted to have a quick visit and do everything within 30 or 45 minutes.”

He was later told the site was at Lubuk Siri, Genting Perah.

Arull told the inquiry earlier he first knew of the possibility of mass graves and human trafficking camps after overhearing a conversation at a coffee shop in Jitra, Kedah, while he was there on a different reporting assignment on March 6, 2015.

“I heard those on the next table talking about mass graves, so I asked one of them about it. He refused to tell much and asked me to go find out for myself,” he said.

He added that his editors had told him to avoid pursuing the lead as it was a security matter.

Sayuti said he was able to step over the barbed wire – which was meant to separate Malaysia and Thailand – that he, Arull and the two Thai men had found on top of the hill.

He said he assumed the grave-like structures they discovered were truly graves despite having no forensics to confirm it, as the structures looked like mounds slightly raised from the ground with leaves covering them.

“The soil was also of a different colour from the rest,” he said.

Former chief justice Arifin Zakaria leads the inquiry panel. The other panel members are Norian Mai, Noorbahri Baharuddin, Razali Ismail, Junaidah Abd Rahman, Nazirah Hussain and Tan Seng Giaw. Yusran Shah Yusof is the secretary of the RCI.

The third session of the public hearing continues tomorrow.