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LONDON -- All 39 people found dead in a refrigerated container truck in England last week were Vietnamese nationals, British police said Friday, as three more people were arrested in Ireland and Vietnam in the sprawling international investigation into what appears to be a people-smuggling tragedy.

British detectives initially said the victims discovered near the southeast port of Purfleet on Oct. 23 were from China, but families from Vietnam have contacted authorities there with concerns for missing relatives.

Essex Police Assistant Chief Constable Tim Smith said Friday that "at this time, we believe the victims are Vietnamese nationals, and we are in contact with the Vietnamese government."

Vietnam's Embassy in London said it was "deeply saddened" at the news and sent "heartfelt condolences" to the victims' families.

"Specific identities of the victims still need to be identified and confirmed by the relevant authorities of Vietnam and U.K.," it said in a statement.

The arrests were made on the same day that an official from the Essex police, which are conducting the main investigation, urged two brothers to turn themselves in to police in Northern Ireland for questioning in the case.

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

Robinson made his first appearance in court Monday, at which a judge ordered him held in custody.

Another man was arrested Friday in Ireland.

Eamon Harrison, a 23-year-old truck driver from Newry, Northern Ireland, was charged with 39 counts of manslaughter, human trafficking and immigration offenses.

Harrison was detained last week on unrelated charges but was thought to be a person of interest in the truck deaths. Irish authorities said Friday that they had begun the process to extradite Harrison to Britain. He was ordered detained until a hearing on Nov. 11.

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

The developments came as officials in several countries, including Belgium, Britain, China, Ireland and Vietnam, were still trying to identify the victims found in Essex and to trace their path in a case with all the hallmarks of a human smuggling operation.

Ha Tinh regional police in central Vietnam said in a statement that they had summoned several others for questioning on suspicion of helping people to travel abroad illegally.

Essex police said they initially believed the victims were from China, but grieving families in Northern Vietnam have said they feared that missing relatives were among the victims. Vietnamese police began a criminal investigation after 10 families from Ha Tinh province reported the disappearance of their relatives.

Two other men and a woman were detained in the investigation by British police and later released on bail. And although the connection among the suspects remains unclear, the case increasingly seems to have some roots in the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

On Friday, Daniel Stoten, detective chief inspector with the Essex Police, urged two brothers from County Monaghan, just south of the Irish border, to turn themselves in to police in Northern Ireland for questioning.

Stoten told reporters that Ronan Hughes, 40, and his brother Christopher, 34, are wanted on suspicion of manslaughter and human trafficking.

Information for this article was contributed by Gregory Katz, Jill Lawles and Hau Dinh of the Associated Press and Elian Peltier of The New York Times.

A Section on 11/02/2019

Print Headline: British police: All 39 people found dead in truck were Vietnamese


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