3 Arrested in Alleged Human Smuggling Ring

Interior Ministry police arrested and deported three foreign nationals for allegedly planning to smuggle 250 illegal immigrants through Cambodia to Australia and the European Union, police said Monday.

Sri Lankan brothers Ramesh Thangavelu, 38, and Saravana Thangavelu, 36, along with Paki­stani Mohamad Noor Ullah, 48, were arrested on Aug 27, after po­lice allegedly discovered evidence that they were planning to set up a large-scale smuggling operation, said Chhay Sinarith, direc­tor of the ministry’s general information department.

“According to Ramesh Than­ga­velu’s confession, the men plan­ned to smuggle 250 people from Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh through Cam­bodia to a third country—the EU and Australia,” Chhay Sinarith said at a news conference.

The men were arrested before the smuggling ring could be­come operational, he said.

He added that the three men also fingered Mariam Pillai Le­rins, owner of the popular Raani Curry Leaf Restaurant in Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district, Lipton Lerins, Mohamad Nadim and a man identified as Gamini, as the alleged ringleaders of the operation—all of whom are still at large.

The three arrested men were sent back to their home countries on Sept 1 under the supervision of international Interpol officers, Chhay Sinarith added.

Nisarullah Baluch, minister for the Pakistan Embassy, said Tues­day that one of the deported men, Mohamad Noor Ullah, owner of the Indian Curry Pot restaurant lo­cated in the Boeng Kak lake backpacker area, was known as a respectable business owner.

“To my information, Noor Ul­lah was a law abiding citizen,” he said, adding that Noor Ullah also ran a free publication called the “Mekong News.”

Baluch said that the Pakistan Em­bassy received no official, written notification from the Interior Ministry before Noor Ullah was deported.

“He was deported without ac­cess to council, and he was de­port­ed quickly,” Baluch said. “The foreign office and the Min­istry of Interior should in­form us [in writing],” he said.

Chhay Sinarith claimed by telephone on Tuesday that the em­bassy had been notified, and that he had met with Baluch.

“We informed the Embassy of Pakistan,” Chhay Sinarith said. “[Baluch] went to meet Moha­mad Noor Ullah face to face.”

Sun Sophea, 43, a Cambodian cook at the Indian Curry Pot, said that Noor Ullah was asked by po­lice to come in for questioning at around 5 pm on Aug 27 and never returned.

“[Police] didn’t say the reason,” Sun Sophea said.

After viewing pictures of Ra­mesh Thangavelu and Mariam Pil­lai Lerins, Sun Sophea said that she had never seen the men in the company of Noor Ullah during the six years she had worked at the restaurant.

In July 2001, 241 Afghans, Pa­ki­stanis, Iranians and Indo­nesians suspected of being illegal immigrants were arrested in Siha­noukville as they were about to board a boat destined for Au­stralia and New Zealand.

Two Indonesians and three Pakistanis among the 241 were suspected of organizing the smugg­ling scheme.

A spokesman for the Austra­lian Embassy on Monday said his government was pleased that the Cambodian authorities had disrupted this latest alleged people smuggling ring.



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