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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Sixty arrested in raid on B'Bang karaoke parlour: local police

Sixty arrested in raid on B'Bang karaoke parlour: local police

The Cobra III karaoke bar and guesthouse concealed a lucrative brothel operation and possible drug trafficking, local police say.

FREQUENT RAIDS

Since the government's new anti-trafficking law came into force in February 2008, police have mounted increasing numbers of raids on brothels, prompting criticisms from rights groups that they are simply driving sex workers onto the streets.

SIXTY people have been arrested as part of a police raid on the Cobra III karaoke parlor and guesthouse in Battambang province, which law enforcement officers claim concealed a high-end brothel.

Owners, managers and women employed as sex workers at the well-known establishment were arrested Monday, said Born Vannara, deputy chief of the Anti-human Trafficking Police in Battambang.

"We have been investigating the establishment for around six months," he said Wednesday.

"Our investigation indicated that there might be both sex and drug trafficking through the Cobra III."

Of the 60 people arrested during the sweep, under a warrant issued by the Battambang court, about nine are believed to be the masterminds of the operation - owners or managers - with the rest believed to be sex workers, whose clients paid between US$20 and $70 for their services.

Three kinds of women were arrested during the raid, Born Vannara said: "special" high-class prostitutes who were physically attractive and wore sexy dresses, "normal girls", or karaoke girls, who were indirect sex workers, and regular waitresses.

He added said that during the raid,  police also found drugs on the premises - in a room he said belonged to Cobra III owner Khan Socheat.

At 2pm Wednesday, police sent the nine key suspects - who police have proposed should be charged with facilitating prostitution and drug trafficking - to Battambang provincial court, police said.

Four of the accused sex workers have been kept at the police station to testify, and the others were made to sign a contract with police agreeing to abstain from prostitution in the future.

Before being returned to their homes in the provinces, the accused sex workers were obliged to undergo "re-education" by officials from the provincial Deparment of Social Affairs, police said.

Re-education includes encouragement to stop working as a prostitute, advice on finding a new job and the health and safety risks of prostitution and drug use.

The guesthouse was shut down in Tuesday's raid, but the karaoke bar has remained open, with Born Vannara calling it a "clean and legal establishment".

Cobra Karaoke also have branches in Preah Sihanouk and Kandal provinces. Tak Vanntha, Sihanoukville chief of police, said he was investigating the local branch but had so far found no evidence of illegal activity.

"Right now, we are strengthening security for Khmer New Year, so we are investigating Cobra Karaoke, but  other clubs and karaoke bars also," he said. 

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