BLANTYRE, Malawi (AP) — Malawian authorities said Friday that four more bodies of people believed to be Ethiopian migrants were found near the forested site of a mass grave discovered this week.
The four decomposing bodies were found Thursday about a kilometer from the mass grave where 25 bodies were exhumed Wednesday in the Mtangatanga Forest Reserve, police said in a statement.
Authorities are “currently waiting for a postmortem report from pathologists which will state the actual cause of death,” the statement said.
Homeland Security Minister Jean Sendeza described the scene as “a very sorry sight.”
“(It’s) a thing which all of us are saddened with,” she told the AP Friday. “It’s a thing that has never happened before. Looking at the bodies that I have seen. So many of them, looking at the grave that they were put in, it’s not even a decent thing that has happened.”
Investigators are looking into the deaths as a potential migrant smuggling case. Evidence collected at the scene indicated the dead were Ethiopian nationals between the ages of 25 and 40, according to Malawi police spokesman Peter Kalaya.
Mtangatanga Forest Reserve is located near the main road connecting Malawi and Tanzania in the northern district of Mzimba. It is known as a route smugglers use to transport people to South Africa.
Fleeing violence and often seeking better opportunities, thousands of Ethiopians flee the Horn of Africa nation each year. Many embark on dangerous sea voyages to Europe.
Initial evidence suggested the Ethiopians buried in Mtangatanga Forest Reserve may have suffocated while traveling in a van, according to police.
“This is an unprecedented event,” said Mzimba Commissioner Rodney Simwaka. “These people are transported in closed-up containers which run out of oxygen.”
More bodies could be buried in the forest, he warned.
Foreign Affairs spokesman John Kabaghe said the Ethiopian government would be formally approached after investigations are complete.
“As you are aware, even the number of the bodies keeps changing. So we will now have to wait until they have completed their investigations into the matter before we can take the next step,” he said Friday.
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