Teenagers Freed in Raid On Phnom Penh Villa

Military police raided a villa in Phnom Penh on Wednesday, freeing 13 teenage trafficking victims being trained as masseuses and arresting three women, officials said.

The girls—all between the ages of 14 and 17—had been lured from their homes in Battambang province to the house in Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changva district with the promise of free training in massage and beauty therapy, according to Sen Komon, chief of the municipal military police’s anti-human trafficking bureau.

Mr. Komon said the three female suspects—two Cambodians and a Thai national—were questioned in connection to the trafficking operation.

“We arrested the three women because they had detained the underage girls for trafficking,” he said, adding that the girls might have been brought to Phnom Penh to do “something else,” but declined to say whether investigators believed they would have been sold into prostitution.

“We are now questioning the suspects one by one, and we will send those people to court after we finish the questioning.”

Mr. Komon said the women denied trafficking the teenagers and told military police that they had simply recruited them to be trained as masseuses with the help of a fourth woman—for whom he would request an arrest warrant.

He said the trafficking operation had come to light when a 15-year-old girl being held at the villa contacted her relatives to alert them of her captors’ intention to send her to Thailand. The relatives then contacted military police, who went to the house and took the girl for questioning on Tuesday, he added.

“She told me that she was lured for training in massage and makeup and was told that she would not be required to pay for training,” Mr. Komon said. “But when she arrived in Phnom Penh, she was lent 400,000 riel [about $100] and the villa’s owner told her to go to work in Thailand.”

After hearing about the traffickers’ intentions, the bureau chief said, military police moved in on the villa. “I have concluded that the villa’s owners gave her training and would have trafficked her to Thailand,” he said, adding that the women would be sent to court today or on Friday.

The 13 girls have been sent to the Ministry of Social Affairs, where they have been enrolled in a skills training program, Mr. Komon said.

He said military police were assisted in the operation by the International Justice Mission (IJM), an anti-trafficking NGO.

Sek Saroeun, a lawyer working for IJM, said the organization was helping provide aftercare service to the girls but declined to say more about the group’s involvement in the case.

“IJM is not the one that investigated the case,” he said. “Military police asked IJM to help support them.”

(Additional reporting by Ouch Sony)

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