Police are seeking a warrant to arrest a lieutenant colonel with the Interior Ministry’s Anti-Terrorism Department over his alleged ownership of a Daun Penh district brothel where 10 Vietnamese child prostitutes were rescued late last month, police said Tuesday
Officials from the Ministry of Interior’s Anti-Human Trafficking and Child Protection Office sent a request to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday, seeking a warrant for Lieutenant Colonel Hem Bunthoeun, said Touch Ngim, deputy director of the anti-trafficking department.
“We sent a report to the judge on Friday to get an arrest warrant for Hem Bunthoeun, but we have no arrest warrant yet,” Touch Ngim said Tuesday. Anti-trafficking Department Chief Thong Kim Heng confirmed that the request was sent to the court, and that no response had been received.
Reached by telephone Tuesday night, Interior Ministry spokesman General Khieu Sopheak said he was not aware of the case.
The 10 girls, who ranged in age from 8 to 16, were rescued during a raid on April 29 at the brothel in Phsar Kandal 1 commune.
The rescued girls were taken to the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center but apparently fled from care workers Thursday while being transferred to a second location arranged by the NGO International Justice Mission.
Furious at the escape of potential witnesses, Touch Ngim said he would file a court complaint against the center and IJM if they did not explain properly how the children were able to flee.
While being handed over to IJM workers, the girls sprinted to a nearby group of men who sped them from the CWCC building on motorbikes.
Police have since traced the location of some of the girls, said Thong Kim.
He declined to provide further details on the girls’ location, but said police have sent a request for the court to call the girls to submit testimony that could be used as evidence in a case against Hem Bunthoeun.
Representatives from the CWCC and IJM are scheduled to meet with police today to discuss the girls’ escape, Touch Ngim and CWCC director Oung Chanthol said.
“We would like to know who was on duty when the girls escaped, and I will call them to explain this to our department,” Touch Ngim said. “If this explanation is unreasonable, I will file a complaint to the court for these two NGOs.”
Oung Chanthol defended the center’s policy of allowing those under her care to leave the compound at any time, saying it was a necessary safeguard—in the absence of a law—against accusations that center staff are illegally confining people.
“If the girls don’t want to stay, and the parents don’t want them to stay, we have to protect our staff,” she said Tuesday.
The girls had not been transferred to IJM’s care before they fled last week, IJM coordinator Ruth Elliott said Tuesday.
“We asked them repeatedly, ‘Don’t let any of them leave from your organization, even if their parents ask, because we are still working on this case,’” Touch Ngim said.
(Reporting by Thet Sambath, Corinne Purtill and Phann Ana)