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3 arrested in Vietnam, Ireland over truck deaths in Britain

Floral tributes at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Thurrock, Essex, England Thursday Oct. 24, 2019 the day after 39 bodies were found inside a truck on the industrial estate. British media are reporting that the 39 people found dead in the back of a truck in southeastern England were Chinese citizens. (Stefan Rousseau / AP)
Floral tributes at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Thurrock, Essex, England Thursday Oct. 24, 2019 the day after 39 bodies were found inside a truck on the industrial estate. British media are reporting that the 39 people found dead in the back of a truck in southeastern England were Chinese citizens. (Stefan Rousseau / AP)
By Gregory Katz Associated Press

LONDON – Police in Vietnam and Ireland made three new arrests Friday in the sprawling investigation into the deaths of 39 people found in a refrigerated truck container in southeast England last week.

Two people suspected of organizing a people-smuggling operation in Vietnam were arrested in Ha Tinh province following reports from 10 families there of missing relatives, VTV television reported.

Col. Nguyen Tien Nam, deputy chief of Ha Tinh provincial police, was quoted as saying the suspects were directly involved in the case in which people paid smugglers to be taken to England and are now feared to be among the bodies found in the container.

Police said the suspects have been organizing people smuggling in the area for several years.

In Ireland, a 22-year-old man was arrested in connection with the Oct. 23 discovery of the bodies in what appears to have been a botched people-smuggling operation. Essex police in Britain, who issued the European Arrest Warrant on which he was arrested, started extradition proceedings to bring him to the U.K. to face charges of manslaughter.

A spokesman for the Dublin High Court said Eamonn Harrison, of Newry in Northern Ireland, appeared in court Friday. He was ordered detained until a hearing on Nov. 11.

The investigation is gathering speed, but authorities have thus far been unable to identify the victims or say exactly where they came from.

Police initially said the victims were from China, but the focus shifted to Vietnam when families there reported that they had not heard from loved ones who were in transit at the time.

In Britain, police have charged 25-year-old Maurice Robinson, also from Northern Ireland, with 39 counts of manslaughter and conspiracy to traffic people. They say he drove the cab of the truck to an English port, where it picked up the container, which had arrived by ferry from Zeebrugge in Belgium.

British officials have stepped up patrols in Purfleet, the English port where the container came in by ferry. They have announced an agreement with Belgium to allow more British immigration officers to be based in Zeebrugge.

British police on Friday asked two other suspects, Ronan and Christopher Hughes, to turn themselves in.

Police say they have already spoke to Ronan Hughes by telephone but want to talk to the two in person.

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