Cambodian authorities said raids are underway this week at suspected cybercrime compounds across the Southeast Asian country, uncovering evidence of human trafficking, illegal confinement and torture.
Regional governments and human rights workers have heaped pressure on Cambodia in the past few months to rein in transnational crime rackets that traffic people into the country from across Asia and beyond to work in illegal gambling and linked scam call centers.
Taiwan’s Criminal Investigation Bureau earlier this month said that 11 Taiwanese who were among 373 believed to have been trafficked to Cambodia have returned.
Cambodian officials have for months denied reports of abuses and trafficking, but senior officials including Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen have taken a harder stance in the past few weeks amid heightened media attention, ordering a crackdown on the shadowy scam operators.
Cambodian National Police spokesperson Chhay Kim Khoeun on Tuesday said that raids were ongoing and police would inform the public of the results when they were complete.
Authorities in the coastal town of Sihanoukville on Monday said they had found evidence of illegal gambling, illegal confinement, torture, prostitution, illegal possession of weapons, money laundering and human trafficking after a five-day operation targeting one business.
More than 8,000 phones, 804 computers, 36 passports and eight Tasers were confiscated, they said in a statement.
Similar raids were reported elsewhere through the weekend and into Monday.
Victims of the cybercrime racket, including many skilled workers with tech expertise, have said they were lured to Cambodia through social media advertisements promising high-paying jobs at casinos and hotels, but were then forced by racketeers to live in compounds and defraud strangers across the globe through Internet romance and cryptocurrency scams.
People who have fled such compounds in the past few months have reported being detained against their will under brutal conditions.
The UN human rights envoy to Cambodia, Vitit Muntarbhorn, last month said that victims were enduring a “living hell,” sometimes resulting in death.
He said that victims are being held in maze-like compounds surrounded by high walls and barbed wire, with no contact with the outside world and sometimes subject to torture for failing to meet the racketeers’ targets.
“There have been reports of tragic situations of victims fleeing by jumping from their walled buildings to try to escape,” he said in an article published in the Bangkok Post this month.
Cambodian and Thai authorities have previously said the wider racket is Chinese-run, but have not provided details.
Jeremy Douglas, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said the raids were a good start, but that the underlying causes needed to be addressed.
“It is fine to move on locations like we’ve seen in recent days, but if authorities react case-by-case, the groups involved will just jump to new locations and the situation won’t really change — these centers can be moved quickly,” he said.
Additional reporting by staff writer, with CNA
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