Drug Center Will Not Pursue 18 Still Free After Mass Escape

After more than 40 men broke out of a Phnom Penh drug rehabilitation cen­ter on Friday, officials said this week that they have called off efforts to arrest 18 es­capees who remain at large, in­stead asking for their families to re­turn them voluntarily.

A total of 44 detainees ran away from the Orkas Knhom drug re­habilitation center in Sen Sok district in two separate escapes, one in which 23 overpowered security guards and scaled the walls of the cen­ter, and a second in the eve­ning during which 21 crawled through a hole in the ceiling and jumped over a wall, an official said.

Police and security guards managed to recapture only 26 of the men, ac­cording to Ean Nong, dep­uty director of Orkas Knhom, or My Chance.

“Our security guards tried to catch them but we could not get them all because it was too dark…and there is forest around there,” he said, adding the re­maining escapees were now be­lieved to be living with their families and would not be forced to return.

“When we informed their parents about their escape [they] confirmed their children returned home,” he said. “If their parents wanted us to bring them back we would go to their houses. But if we do not have the cooperation of the parents, they will run away again.”

Approximately 700 people—ostensibly drug addicts—are housed at the center, which has been accused by rights groups of ar­bitrarily detaining and abusing people considered to be a public nuisance.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, which blasted the center in a 2013 report titled “They Treat Us Like Animals,” said that the de­tent­ion of anyone at the center was unlawful.

“This is purely arbitrary detention of poor people that the government finds inconvenient to be on the streets,” he said in an email on Wednesday, adding that he believed Mr. Nong was “making up the story as he goes along.”

“He’s trying to maintain the fiction that the only people in the center are those sent by their families, which is patently false. If he opened the gates to let people leave, he’d find his center empty in no time and fam­ilies swinging by to pick their relatives up,” Mr. Robertson said.

Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for rights group Licadho, which monitors the country’s prisons but has been prevented from inspecting the center, said the mass es­cape was evidence that it was not being run ethically.

“We have never been inside the Orkas Knhom Center before be­cause they will not let us,” he said. “But if the situation inside the center was good, I don’t think anyone would want to face dangers like guards, [razor] wire or breaking through the roof in order to escape.”

(Additional reporting by Taylor O’Connell)

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Correction: A previous version of this article mistakenly identified Eang Nong, a deputy director of the Orkas Knhom drug re­habilitation center, as Eang Ly, another deputy director.  

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