KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — More than 120 suspected victims of job scams have been rescued after being stranded by fighting in northern Myanmar between the military and armed ethnic groups, Malaysia’s government said.
The number of Malaysians rescued surged from an initial 26 to 127 in the past few days, Foreign Minister Zambry Abd Kadir told local media late Monday before flying to New York.
He said they are in a safe location and the government hoped to fly them home by Thursday. The foreign ministry earlier said the group were stranded in Laukkaing, a town known as a notorious hub for online scams, gambling and other major organised crimes.
Fighting has continued in northern Myanmar after an alliance of armed ethnic minority groups launched a surprise offensive last month. They have seized control of several border crossings to China, in a major disruption to trade.
Zambry said the ministry was asked to help evacuate an Indonesian and a Hong Kong citizen from the area. He said the duo will be flown out with the Malaysians. He thanked China and Myanmar authorities for their help in the operation but didn’t give further details.
A government official who declined to be named as he isn’t authorised to speak to the media said Tuesday that based on initial information, the 127 Malaysians were lured to the area by fraud job offers. He said details of the rescue operation and their evacuation couldn’t be released yet due to the sensitivity of the case and the various parties involved.
Earlier this month, 266 Thai victims of human traffickers, several Filipinos and a Singaporean were also rescued from Laukkaing and taken to China’s Kunming city, where they boarded chartered flights to Bangkok. Another group of 41 Thais were also reportedly repatriated across the land border.
Unrest in Myanmar’s border region has been a constant irritant to China, despite its support for the country’s military rulers who took power in a takeover in 2021.
Beijing earlier this week called for a cease-fire in Myanmar but said it will continue live-firing drills on its side of the frontier to prepare for any emergency. Chinese police have reportedly fired tear gas to drive away people who were sheltering close to the border fence.
China is highly wary of conflicts spilling over the border that is already rife with drug trafficking and people smuggling. Cybercrime targeting Chinese victims has become a major concern, and China has pushed hard to eliminate the groups based in Myanmar and other countries and to send the perpetrators back to China for prosecution.