PHNOM PENH: Cambodia's nationwide crackdown against human trafficking and forced labour is continuing with almost 500 more people being rescued, mostly in Sihanoukville.
However as more people are being rescued, claims about organ harvesting keep cropping up and authorities have been trying to verify them.
According to a report in the Khmer Times, claims of organs being harvested from human trafficking victims, have circulated widely and virally across the region, instilling fear and uncertainty to those planning to visit Cambodia.
However, it said investigations have shown that these allegations were just threats issued by scam syndicates to keep their workers in line.
It is believed to have started with video clips circulating online alleging that those who failed to perform their tasks as ordered by scam syndicates, risked having their bodies cut open and their vital organs harvested for sale in the black market through the dark web.
This was followed by claims that thousands of people were lured to work for the syndicates in Cambodia and at least two other Southeast Asian nations with promises of high paying jobs and salaries to be paid out in US dollars.
Police officials from several Asean countries told Khmer Times that the allegations have caused great damage to Cambodia and to a smaller extent to the other two nations.
This is despite such illegal online gambling operations and other scam operations also happening in at least half of the 10 Asean member nations.
A Cambodian police task force official said Cambodia had been singled out unfairly although sustained police action to nab scam operations members and operators has so far netted hundreds of suspects.
"Our investigations have also revealed that the alleged human body parts trafficking were merely threats used by the scam operators to keep workers in line and that no actual body parts were harvested and neither has anyone come forward to provide any evidence of this along with allegations of blood harvesting."
Malaysian Ambassador to Cambodia Datuk Eldeen Husaini Mohd Hashim recently said that a joint Asean task force may be the answer to the issue as information and intelligence sharing, coordinating and analysing can play a big role in smashing these syndicates.
In July, the United States downgraded Cambodia to Tier 3, the lowest rank on its human trafficking index, after failing to deal with the issue effectively.
Cambodian Minister of Interior Sar Kheng said that up to 99.95 per cent of the ringleaders were not Cambodian nationals.
"The ones who make plans to send people from other countries to Cambodia are not Cambodians," he pointed out.
In 2017, two Cambodians were charged for allegedly being involved in the illegal human body parts trade. They were charged with persuading and paying ignorant Cambodians to travel to India to sell their kidneys or other vital organs.
Cambodian parliament banned commercial organ transplants in 2016, in a bid to curb trafficking in the so-called "red market" trade.
Meanwhile, Khmer Times said Preah Sihanouk provincial authorities have rescued 469 victims of human or sex trafficking during crackdowns in Sihanoukville from Sept 18 to 22.
The victims were among 1,480 foreigners, who were detained during nationwide operations against human trafficking, illegal detention, sex trafficking and illegal online gambling.
Among the 1,480 foreigners, 588 of them were found to be working in Cambodia without passports, work permits and other legal documents.
Preah Sihanouk provincial police chief Major General Chuon Narin said authorities will continue inspections of suspected unauthorised business locations to stamp out the menace.
He said strict legal action will be taken against such business owners until the whole of Sihanoukville no longer has such problems.
Meanwhile, 246 Taiwanese, who were allegedly lured to Cambodia and forced to work for the scam syndicates, have been sent home.
Taiwan's Central News Agency reports that Taipei's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) coordinated their return with the help of Cambodian authorities.
However, there are still 393 Taiwanese who are still unable to return from Cambodia, said Fan Hou-lu, deputy head of MOFA's Department East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
He said that between Aug 26 and Sept 8, Taiwan received 133 requests to return home, but in the period between Sept 8 and 23, the number dropped to 51.
They were allegedly lured to Cambodia with fake lucrative job offers and then forced to work for the scam syndicates.
According to a press release issued last Saturday by Taiwan police's Criminal Investigation Bureau, 60 of the 393 Taiwanese have been freed from their fraud jobs and were awaiting assistance to get back to Taipei.
On Aug 8, Taipei set up a task force to handle the problem of its nationals falling prey to job scams in Cambodia and to help bring home those stranded there.
The task force has also been working to raise public awareness of the risks related to work and travel in Cambodia.