Three witnesses to the alleged Dec 8 abduction of 91 women and girls from a women’s shelter disputed Tuesday the Interior Ministry’s claim that the females escaped of their own accord.
The ministry claimed in a statement Sunday that the women and girls fled the shelter of their own volition after relatives demanded their release.
But three builders working 5 meters from the shelter said they witnessed about 30 men kick, push and smash the gate of Afesip’s women’s shelter with rocks for about five minutes at 11 am on the day of the attack, causing the gate to give way.
Some of the alleged sex workers were then ushered into sport utility vehicles, while others fled on motorbike taxis, the witnesses said. The three witnesses said they have not been interviewed by police.
“Police should have come to ask me [what happened], because this is a security problem in this commune,” said Srun So Phal, 25.
One of the vehicles that the women were ushered into had a police number plate, he said.
“It looked bad when they took the girls out like that,” Srun So Phal said. “This NGO educates people to be good, and [breaking them out] is against the law.”
He said the people in the vehicles arrived at 7 am, and tried to negotiate with Afesip guards to hand over the girls and women. Afesip staff told the men they were not authorized to do so, he said.
Another witness, Duch Phon, 24, said the girls on the inside of the shelter also helped to break open the door.
As they fled the shelter, they appeared frightened, and some fell to the ground, he said.
“The girls didn’t speak. They just ran and ran,” Duch Phon said. The attackers verbally threatened staff, he added.
Phon Vireak, 24, also witnessed about 30 men attack the shelter and said he has not been interviewed by police.
A motorbike taxi driver who drove two of the women back to Chai Hour II Hotel at their request said Tuesday he saw a man, either in police or military uniform, usher one of the girls into a vehicle.
The driver, who asked not to be identified, added that at least one of the vehicles had military number plates.
Before the raid, he said, he saw a fat man with a handheld radio shout at Afesip staff: “If you don’t let them out, I will shoot you.”
The hotel says it is not involved in the sex trade, but video footage of the Dec 7 raid filmed by a French TV crew and viewed by reporters Tuesday shows women in short white skirts on display behind a glass screen inside the hotel and police confiscating numerous packets of condoms and a pornographic video.
At one point in the video footage, officers enter a room to find an alleged sex worker in a towel, a condom on the bed and a suspected client fully clothed.
During the raid, alleged sex workers cowered on the floor and covered their faces in front of an Afesip staff member who marched around the hotel during the raid speaking to the camera crew.
Outside the hotel, the 83 women and girls were packed, standing up, into a small truck and delivered to the anti-trafficking police department, before being taken to the shelter.
Video footage taken later at the shelter shows two of the women from the hotel smiling and at ease.
One teenager who was filmed had a bruised upper back.
Speaking in Khmer, the girl wept and said she wanted to go home.