A police official on Sunday said witnesses retracted their original accounts of the alleged Dec 8 abduction of 91 women and girls from a Phnom Penh women’s shelter during police questioning last week.
Three builders working 5 meters from the shelter said in Tuesday interviews that they witnessed about 30 men kick, push and smash the gate of Afesip’s women’s shelter with rocks for about 5 minutes on Dec 8, causing the gate to give way.
But Hun Song, deputy Tuol Kok district police chief, said Sunday that the three men changed their story Thursday.
“They denied informing [local media] that they saw people raid Afesip,” Hun Song said.
One of the three witnesses, however, said Sunday that he stuck to his original account during three hours of police questioning. “I told the police as I told [reporters],” Srun So Phal said.
Srun So Phal said Tuesday that he witnessed some of the alleged sex workers ushered into sport utility vehicles following the raid, one of which had a police license plate. The other women and girls fled on motorbike taxis, he said. The two other witnesses, Duch Phon and Phon Vireak, were not at work Sunday.
Afesip’s legal advisor, Aarti Kapoor, expressed concern that low ranking police officials working on the case may be too afraid to discuss it accurately. “The police are a biased party and are not independent,” Kapoor said.
The alleged raid on the Afesip shelter followed a joint police and municipal court operation at the Chai Hour II Hotel in Phnom Penh in which 83 women and girls were taken into care.
Srun So Phal said that during police questioning he thumb-printed a statement confirming that he saw a man in either a government or private bodyguard uniform participate in the raid on Afesip. Police did not threaten the witnesses, he said.
The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, of which Licadho is a member, interviewed two of the three builders last week. The men at the time stuck to accounts given to reporters, Licadho founder Kek Galabru said.