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Chinese nationals (in orange vests) who were arrested over a suspected internet scam, are escorted by Chinese police officers before they were deported at Phnom Penh International Airport, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Samrang Pring

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PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia on Thursday deported 74 Chinese nationals wanted in China on suspicion of extorting money from people there over the internet and by telephone, Cambodian police said.

This raises the number of people from China and Taiwan who have been deported this year for suspected telecom scams to 346, Uk Heisela, the head of the Cambodian police told reporters at a press conference at the airport in the capital of Phnom Penh.

Several hundred suspected scammers have been arrested in Cambodia, which has emerged as a major centre of rackets that have cost the victims billions of dollars.

A team of Chinese police arrived at the airport on a China Southern Airlines flight to pick up the suspects, who wore masks and had numbers marked on pink shirts.

Uk Heisela said the 74 suspects, including 14 women, had been detained on Oct. 5 in the seaside town of Sihanoukville. Two Indonesians were also deported back to their home country.

"They tricked victims in China, the civil servants there, such as teachers, medics and artists," Uk Heisela said.

In some cases, they had obtained naked pictures of the victims and used them for blackmail, he said.

Cambodia is one of China's closest allies in Southeast Asia. More than 400 Chinese and Taiwanese were arrested in Cambodia in August alone for suspected telecom scams.

The country's good internet connections and relaxed immigration laws have attracted con artists to carry out crimes.

(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

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