BLANTYRE, Malawi (HPD) — Malawian authorities have exhumed the bodies of 26 people, believed to be Ethiopian immigrants, from a mass grave 255 kilometers (155 miles) north of Lilongwe, the capital.
Local villagers found the grave in a forest near the main road between Malawi and Tanzania, known as a route used by smugglers to transport people to South Africa.
According to early indications, the men buried in the Mtangatanga forest would have suffocated to death in a van, police said. Investigators have viewed the deaths as a possible case of human trafficking.
“It has been arranged through the Ministry of Health to bring in a pathologist to do the autopsy and have an official version of the cause of death,” said Rodney Simwaka, Mzimba District Commissioner in Malawi’s North Region.
Simwaka told The Associated Press that he heard Wednesday morning that villagers had seen the bodies near a sawmill.
Evidence collected at the scene indicates the men were Ethiopian between the ages of 25 and 40, Malawi police spokesman Peter Kalaya said.
In July, police seized a 33-ton tanker truck that entered Malawi from Tanzania with 42 Ethiopians.
Authorities said at the time that some passengers appeared weak and in urgent need of medicine and food.
One of the migrants, the only one who spoke English, told police that it had taken the group at least four months to reach Malawi.