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Search on for lost men

Rights groups say three Cambodian trafficking victims who are missing in Malaysia could be in the coastal city of Miri, on the basis of information from a home owner who hid the men from authorities.

The men, believed to have been subjected to brutal enslavement on fishing boats, were hidden during an operation that rescued seven Kingdom residents.

The rescued men have said they were beaten, worked to breaking point and saw colleagues shot and tossed overboard from boats. They, along with the missing men, jumped off  the boats and swam to Sarawak province, where they were found working in two plywood factories for little pay.

Aegile Fernandez, anti-human trafficking co-ordinator at Malaysia-based rights group Tenaganita, said yesterday  information from a resident – whose house had been used to hide the men before a raid on the Asia Plywood Company fac tory  in late May – put the missing Cambodians in Miri, in Sarawak.

“They hid them away so there wouldn’t be any evidence that they had been harbouring them,” she said, adding that the fastest way to pinpoint the men’s exact location was to arrest the owner of the Asia Plywood Company  factory and interrogate him.

Huy Pich Sovann, a programme officer at the Community Legal Education Center in Cambodia, said it would still be difficult to locate the men, as Miri was a large city.

He said the home owner might provide the key to finding the victims, who he identified as “Em Top” and “Run” from Battambang province and “Ting” from Kampong Speu province.

“That man said someone took them from his home, so he must have contact with the people that took them,” Huy Pic Sovann said.

Three brokers, one of whom had operated individually, had been identified by the rescued victims and would be reported to police, he added.

Their identities could not be revealed because it would compromise future investigations, Huy Pic Sovann said.

Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said yesterday Malaysian and Cambodian authorities would work hard together to locate them.

“We hope that with our hard work and good co-operation from the Malaysian authorities, we will be able to rescue them in the future,” he said.

Fernandez said the prospects for two  missing men were uncertain. They were reportedly recaptured by a Thai captain after jumping ship, despite not being able to swim.

“From the previous testimony of fishermen, when some of them tried to escape, they were caught and they were shot,” she said.

Raja Saifful Ridzuwan, deputy chief of mission at the Malaysian embassy in Phnom Penh, could not be reached for comment yesterday. The Asia Plywood Company did not respond.

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