The United States Friday deplored the kidnapping in Cambodia of some 91 women and children who had been rescued from a Phnom Penh brothel earlier this week, only to have been re-captured by the operators of the prostitution operation.

The condemnation of the incident in Phnom Penh was in usually strong terms and reflected the increasing focus by the United States on the problem of trafficking in persons.

According to the State Department, agents of Cambodia's Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Department on Tuesday rescued 91 woman and children from a Phnom Penh hotel notorious for the sex trafficking of children, and took them to a privately-run shelter.

The next day, however, the operators of the brothel, including several who had been detained in the hotel raid but released by the police, showed up at the shelter, which is partly U.S. funded, and abducted all but one of those rescued Tuesday.

At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli described the kidnapping episode as horrific and outrageous and called on the Cambodian government to take immediate action to retrieve the victims, investigate the case, and bring those responsible to justice. "We deeply deplore the actions of those responsible for this outrageous attack, and we demand that the Cambodian government take immediate action to locate the women and children who were abducted from the shelter, and that once they locate them they rescue and protect them," he said.

Mr. Ereli said the U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia Charles Ray had expressed the United States' great concern about the case at the highest levels of the Cambodian government.

The Phnom Penh shelter from which the women and children were abducted is run by a French-based non-governmental organization A.F.E.S.I.P, called, in English, Acting for Women in Distressing Situations.

The shelter director in Phnom Penh said Friday she was temporarily closing the facility because the attackers who stormed the facility Wednesday had carried guns and threatened staff members.

In a written statement late Thursday, the State Department said the Cambodian government should take all appropriate measures to ensure the safety of the A.F.E.S.I.P. and all others involved in safeguarding trafficking victims.

It said the United States applauds the brave actions of the Cambodian anti-human trafficking unit that initially rescued the women and children, and said the Phnom Pehn government should give it and its leader, General Un Sokunthea, full support in fighting trafficking and related corruption.

In its most recent report on human rights practices world-wide, issued last February, the State Department credited the Cambodian government for using the media to raise public awareness of the trafficking problem.

However it said enforcement of anti-trafficking laws, which provide long prison terms for traffickers, was uneven with only a few dozen cases prosecuted.

The U.S. report said it was believed widely that Cambodian police and other officials received bribes that facilitated the sex trade and human trafficking, but that there were no known prosecutions for such corruption.