Cambodian police are cooperating with their Vietnamese counterparts to search for more than 40 Vietnamese staffers who broke through a door to escape from their casino in Kandal province’s Koh Thom district.

Provincial governor Kong Sophorn said on August 21 that they fled the Golden Phoenix Entertainment Casino, located in Chrey Thom commune, on August 18 due to a labour dispute. He said police were looking into whether they were legally employed.

“Along with specialists from the Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Immigration, our investigations are ongoing,” he said.

A casino supervisor and several staff members have been detained for questioning following the incident, which saw the more than 40 employees swim across the Chrey Thom River to Vietnam.

“The river is just 40m wide, so they escaped back into Vietnam. We are cooperating with Vietnamese authorities so we can sit them down and ask them some questions.

“Swimming across the border is not a huge offence, but we want to understand the nature of the employment dispute. We have very progressive labour laws here in Cambodia, and we may be able to seek justice for them,” he said.

Sophorn added that two security guards from the casino had received treatment for wounds, suffered as they attempted to stop the employees leaving.

Interior minister Sar Kheng, who also serves as chairman of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking (NCCT), said that following the incident, the police had detained the supervisor and some victims for questioning.

“I have no detailed information yet, but according to my initial findings, it appears that the staff were promised higher salaries than they were receiving. We believe it is likely that several of them were working here illegally,” he added.

The remarks came as he chaired an August 19 inter-ministerial meeting with NCCT members on August 19 at the ministry.

“It appears that some of the Vietnamese employees remained at the casino, and we will be speaking to them. We are also checking relevant work permits and paperwork,” he added.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director of rights group LICADHO, voiced concern over human trafficking in Cambodia, saying: “Recently we have seen international media outlets and international institutions publishing reports regarding human trafficking issues in the Kingdom, especially online labour exploitation.”

He urged authorities to enforce anti-trafficking laws, lest Cambodia’s image be marred on the international stage.

“We support a crackdown and an end to every single case of trafficking, but we have to go further and strengthen mechanisms to curb it altogether. The law must be enforced regardless of a person’s rank or position,” he added.

Sar Kheng said the ministry is planning activities that will combat trafficking, saying he is very close to organising a meeting with international partners that would see a number of trafficking masterminds brought to justice.