Cambodia's prime minister appealed Thursday to villagers in northwestern Cambodia not to lynch an unlicensed medical practitioner who they suspect caused more than 100 people to become infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Teng Kunthy, head of the Health Ministry's HIV/AIDS center, said 106 people out of more than 800 tested in Battambang's Roka village were found to have the virus.

A joint statement from the ministry and the World Health Organization said some people who tested positive for the disease had earlier received care from the unlicensed medical practitioner. HIV spreads through the transmission of bodily fluids, such as through sexual contact, the reuse of contaminated syringes or needles or transfusions of tainted blood.

Reports in the Phnom Penh Post and other newspapers said the practitioner was taken into protective custody by police after threats from angry villagers. The Post reported that villagers alleged he gave injections to at least 30 people in the area, and that the infected ranged in age from 3 to 82 years old and included Buddhist monks. Prime Minister Hun Sen urged that the authorities give the man full protection.

Hun Sen said health officials should be allowed time to make a full investigation.

The Health Ministry statement said a team including experts from U.S. and U.N. agencies had been sent to Battambang province "to determine the source, extent and chain of transmission of HIV infection."

Cambodia had a high HIV prevalence rate of 2.0 percent in 1998 but an aggressive campaign to promote safe sex brought the figure down to an estimated 0.7 percent this year, according to the U.N. agency that spearheads the worldwide fight against AIDS.