The international community on Friday urged the government to rescue 91 women and girls abducted from a women’s shelter by an armed group on Wednesday, and to prosecute those responsible.
During the raid, about 30 men and women, some armed with handguns, surrounded a shelter run by the NGO Afesip, assaulted security guards and ushered the 91 into several vehicles.
The raid on the NGO followed a joint police and municipal court operation at the Chai Hour II Hotel in Phnom Penh where 83 women and girls were taken into care. Eight other women residents at the Afesip shelter were also abducted during Wednesday’s incident, staff said.
“The Cambodian government must take immediate and urgent action to locate, rescue and protect” the abductees, the US State Department said in a statement Friday. The State Department called on the Cambodian government to thoroughly investigate the case and bring the perpetrators to justice
The EU also expressed concern about the safety of the abductees in a statement Friday evening. It urged the government to rescue the women and girls, protect Afesip staff, and bring the perpetrators to justice.
As the UN human rights center in Phnom Penh launched an investigation Friday, Afesip Director Pierre Legros called for Kofi Annan, the UN’s Secretary-General, to be informed.
Although the incident has drawn international outcries, staff at the Chai Hour II Hotel—where at least 50 of the females were presented to reporters Friday—claimed the women and girls had fled Afesip of their own accord. At least 10 among the group appeared to be in their mid-teens, while others appeared slightly older.
Hotel staff also presented documents containing around 50 thumbprints which will be in a police complaint against the NGO for alleged illegal detention.
In front of a video camera and under the observation of about five men, several of the females were questioned by a man who appeared to be hotel staff. Those who spoke denied being sex workers and said they escaped from Afesip.
Kim Song, who identified himself as the hotel’s accountant, claimed the girls escaped from Afesip and had come back to work of their own accord.
“They work here as karaoke girls. They don’t sell sex,” Kim Song said. He denied the hotel employs minors.
About 54 of the women taken during the police raid are back at work, while about 30 are unaccounted for, he said.
The anti-human trafficking bust on the hotel was conducted after several months of investigations by anti-trafficking police in conjunction with Afesip. A Municipal Court prosecutor was also present during the raid.
No complaint will be filed against the police, said Kim Song, who showed work contracts for the women, and pointed to a collection of government certificates on the wall: “We have all the licenses.”
Investigations before the hotel raid found that virgins were being sold, and that about 200 girls and young women were being prostituted from the hotel, Aarti Kapoor, Afesip’s legal advisor alleged on Friday.
Some of the women were likely pressured by the hotel staff to make a complaint, said Kapoor, who voiced concern for the abductees still unaccounted for.
Some of the women expressed a desire to return to the hotel, while others definitely did not want to go back, Kapoor added.
Afesip has closed the shelter since the raid, due to security concerns.
Om Yentieng, advisor to Prime Minister Hun Sen, and Khieu Sopheak, Interior Ministry spokesman, did not answer calls Friday.