Two brothers were provisionally charged with unlawful removal of children Sunday after being arrested on Friday in Ratanakkiri province for kidnapping nine children from two separate pagodas in Kon Mom district, police said.
“We have rescued nine children in total, aged between 8 and 14, including three Kroeng ethnic minority children,” said deputy district police chief Ren Mut, adding that the brothers—Thai Phim, 63, and Chin Kim, 53—had bribed the boys.
“They gave the children 2,000 riel [$0.50] each and promised to bring them to the new place where they could earn more money,” Mr. Mut said.
Mr. Phim and Mr. Kim transported an initial group of five children from a pagoda in Ta Ong commune to the O’Russei pagoda in Kratie province’s Kratie City on Thursday, he said.
By Thursday afternoon, police had received complaints from three families who said their children had gone missing, prompting them to begin searching near the pagoda where they were last seen, according to Mr. Mut.
At the pagoda, a 15-year-old boy informed police that the children had been taken to Kratie City, adding that the suspects had paid him to convince more children to take the trip, Mr. Mut said.
On Friday morning, Mr. Phim and Mr. Kim arranged for a taxi driver, Chhean Chhun Leng, to collect four more children from a different pagoda along National Road 48, Mr. Mut said, adding that police arrested Mr. Chhun Leng as he was loading the children into his van.
The taxi driver led police to Mr. Phim and Mr. Kim, who were arrested near the pagoda in Kratie City and then showed police where the five children were being kept inside the pagoda, he said.
Mr. Chhun Leng was released after he was questioned by police on Friday afternoon, he added.
“We decided to release him because he did not join with those guys. He was just paid 100,000 riel [about $25] to transport four more children to Kratie province,” Mr. Mut said.
Yim Sethy, police chief of Ta Ong commune, where all of the kidnapped children were from, said both suspects denied the accusations of human trafficking.
“The suspects confessed to bringing the children to Kratie, but they said they did not traffic those children. They claim that they planned to bring those children to be monks,” Mr. Sethy said.
However, Mr. Mut said police believed the suspects planned to sell the children to work in illicit child-labor rings.
“I don’t believe they have intention to help the children,” Mr. Mut said.
“If they wanted them to be monks, why did they kidnap them from the village without informing their parents?” he added.
“We think they maybe they wanted those children for trafficking and have a network already behind them. We believe that because the suspects tried to find 40 to 50 children or more to go with them.”
Muon Soken, the chief monk at O’Russei pagoda, confirmed that Mr. Phim and Mr. Kim brought the five children to stay at the pagoda on Thursday night, but said he told the men to take the children back to their families.
“We did not see them with their parents so I told him to bring them back home,” he said.
All nine children were returned to their parents on Saturday, according to Mr. Mut, who said the suspects are in the custody of Ratanakkiri provincial police.
The Ratanakkiri Provincial Court provisionally charged the brothers with unlawful removal of minors yesterday, according to deputy prosecutor Morm Vanda.
“I already provisionally charged them with unlawful removal of a minor,” he said.
Mr. Vanda said the case was now in the hands of an investigating judge, who planned to question Mr. Phim and Mr. Kim today.