Accused US Child Abuser Caught

Fugitive U.S. Army Sergeant Michael Harris, who has been on the run in Cambodia for the past two weeks, was arrested Tuesday morning in Kratie province and will be deported to the U.S. to face more than 40 counts of possession of child pornography and allegations of child rape, according to police and U.S. Embassy officials.

The 34-year-old was thought to be hiding out in Phnom Penh after fleeing Sihanoukville, where earlier this month he was found to be working as a dog trainer under the alias Michael Dobbs. The U.S. Army confirmed that he had flown to Cambodia on January 17 shortly after skipping bail in Orlando, Florida.

“The U.S suspect was arrested by Kratie provincial police on Tuesday morning while driving a Honda Rebel motorbike with packed [saddlebags], suggesting that he intended to escape to another province,” said Uk Heisela, chief of investigations at the Interior Ministry’s immigration department.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Jay Raman confirmed that the Arizona native was in police custody, but referred questions relating to his deportation to Cambodian authorities.

“We greatly appreciate the help of the Cambodian authorities for their help in apprehending Michael Edward Harris,” Mr. Raman said.

While the manhunt centered on Phnom Penh, with police chasing numerous false leads in the capital over the past week, provincial authorities and border officials were put on high alert and sent photos of Mr. Harris, according to Mr. Heiseila.

“Kratie provincial police believed they had located the suspect a couple of days ago, staying at a guesthouse in Kratie City, and began surveillance,” he said.

“Yesterday morning, the suspect left the guesthouse on his motorbike and was followed by 10 provincial police officers, and shortly after 10 a.m., police surrounded his bike and asked him to stop.”

Mr. Harris pulled over to the side of the road, but then tried to flee on foot, Mr. Heisela said. But he did not get far, and police soon caught up with him, at which point he claimed he was not the person they were looking for, he added.

“The suspect shouted at police not to come near him or to touch him, and said he was not the suspect,” Mr. Heiseila said. “He called his friend in Phnom Penh on the telephone [asking him] to talk to police in Khmer, but our police officers understand English and heard him say ‘Michael Harris’ on the phone.”

Mr. Heiseila said that since the search for Mr. Harris began about two weeks ago, authorities have pursued Mr. Harris without the assistance of the U.S. Embassy.

“We did not cooperate with U.S. officials, from the beginning of our investigation until his arrest, and will now ask the U.S. to deport the suspect,” he said.

“This case will serve as a warning that Cambodia is not an easy place for fugitives to hide.”

Mr. Harris’ ex-wife, Denise Diaz, tracked down her ex-husband in Sihanoukville on October 14 and notified authorities and the public via Facebook and online forums. She later offered a $2,000 bounty for anyone who delivered Mr. Harris to the U.S. Embassy.

On Tuesday, she expressed her relief that he had been captured.

“I am elated to announce that I was notified this morning…that the fugitive Michael Edward Harris has been apprehended in Cambodia and is awaiting deportation,” she said by email from her home in Kentucky.

“Our Law Enforcement agencies involved in this apprehension and investigation deserve our utmost recognition for their diligence in bringing an end to Michael Harris’s time on the run. Thank you Cambodia!”

odom@cambodiadaily.com, henderson@cambodiadaily.com

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