PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Authorities in Cambodia on Friday arrested 36 suspects from Cambodia, Taiwan and neighboring Thailand on suspicion of running a telecoms scam to defraud victims abroad, military police said.
Cambodia, a staunch ally of China, has deported hundreds of Chinese and Taiwanese nationals in recent years in a crackdown on internet and telecoms scams orchestrated from different places in Cambodia, including the capital, Phnom Penh.
China has been battling telecoms fraud for years, with the scams causing financial losses running into billions of dollars, authorities in Beijing say.
Friday's arrests in Phnom Penh and in the resort city of Sihanoukville, a Chinese investment hub, reeled in suspects in some of the first scams to target neighboring Thailand, said national military police commander Sao Sokha.
"They used Cambodia as a place to extort money from victims abroad, including people in Thailand," Sao Sokha told Reuters.
The group, consisting of 26 Thais, six people from self-ruled Taiwan, and four Cambodians accused of online extortion from victims in China and Thailand, would be deported if there was no evidence of crimes committed in Cambodia, he added.
"We don't allow our country as a shelter for criminals."
The raids were conducted in tandem with Thai police and a Thai court had issued arrest warrants for some of the detained Thai nationals, Sao Sokha said.
Beijing accuses Taiwan, an island it claims as its own, of harboring criminal gangs behind many of the telecoms scams. Cambodia, like Beijing, does not recognize Taiwan as an independent nation.
For its part, Taiwan has been upset that Taiwanese extortion suspects have been deported to China in the past and has accused Phnom Penh of acting at the behest of Beijing.
The deportations have come as relations between Beijing and Taipei have deteriorated, with China suspecting Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen of pushing for the island's formal independence.
She says she wants to maintain peace with China but will defend Taiwan's security and democracy.
(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Clarence Fernandez)