Three Who Led Cambodians Into Fishing Slavery Sentenced

Three “prolific traffickers” who allegedly worked for at least seven years tricking Siem Reap residents into enslavement aboard Thai fishing vessels were sentenced to prison on Thursday, although two remain at large, according to officials.

Nak Sambath, Nget Phalla and Moeut Kia, all Cambodian citizens, were convicted for trafficking six men into the Thai fishing industry. The three men—all aged 40 and above—were identified as ringleaders of a trafficking ring after 230 Cambodian men were repatriated in June 2015, said a release from the International Justice Mission (IJM), an anti-slavery organization that worked on the case.

Eighty of the men rescued were from Siem Reap alone, said Colonel Duong Thavry, chief of the province’s anti-human trafficking police.

“The victims came to file complaints and gave us the suspects’ identities. Then we opened an investigation and arrested one man who was a suspect among three,” Col. Thavry said on Sunday.

The investigation uncovered that the three ringleaders were behind a trafficking network that “recruited, transported and sold the men to ship captains in Thai ports,” an IJM statement said.

The Cambodian workers were “trapped on the vessels for years (in some cases more than a decade) under horrendous conditions” and their pay was withheld by the traffickers, who had been operating for more than seven years, the statement added.

The Siem Reap Court of First Instance sentenced Mr. Sambath and Mr. Phalla to nine years in prison, while Mr. Kia received eight, the IJM said. The latter two were convicted in absentia and remain at large, according to Peter Williams, the IJM’s field office director for Cambodia.

The six victims were awarded compensation ranging from 2 million to 25 million riel, or about $492 to $6,155.

“This conviction is fair justice,” Col. Thavry said on Sunday. “This is a good message to warn other ringleaders.” Officials are working to track down the two men at large, she added.

“These three traffickers are responsible for causing great pain and suffering for many young Cambodians,” Mr. Williams said in the IJM statement.

He added later in a telephone interview that the three men were “prolific traffickers” and likely responsible for a large proportion of victims trafficked to vessels from Siem Reap in recent years.

Mr. Williams said there was no way to get a reliable figure of how many people had fallen victim to the three men or remained on Thai vessels.

At the time of the mass repatriation, Sara Piazzano, country director of the USAID-funded Counter-Trafficking in Persons Project, said at least 300,000 Cambodians were estimated to work on Thai fishing vessels.

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