A POLICE task force to catch pimps involved in the international recruitment of prostitutes to work in Hong Kong has found South American women working in Mongkok. The new regional syndicated vice squad, headed by a chief inspector, also investigates overseas connections in the supply of prostitutes. A police source said: ''The squad's job is to identify the problem, plan strategies and identify the big players in vice. ''It also looks at rumours about police involvement such as giving syndicate members tip-offs in advance of police raids in exchange for free sex with a prostitute.'' The squad, joined by vice, anti-triad officers and officers in Mongkok and Kowloon City, raided villas and restaurants between 9 pm on Tuesday and 4.30 am yesterday. In the operation, involving 64 officers, police arrested 16 foreign prostitutes aged between 20 and 23, 16 male escorts and three villa operators. Three of them were from South and Central America - a Colombian, Bolivian and Panamanian - and the rest were from the Philippines and China. Police believe they have smashed two vice syndicates active in Mongkok, Kowloon City and Shamshuipo. Detective Senior Inspector Yip Sheung-fung said five of the escorts would be charged with living on earnings of prostitution. The villa operators were expected to be charged with running a vice establishment. The police source said they were investigating how the South American women were enticed to come here. ''The major prostitution syndicates are operating from the Philippines and Thailand,'' he said. ''We have a close working relationship with the Philippines consulate and the Hong Kong Immigration Department which helps establish a trend.'' Describing the vice problem as ''enormous'' the source said syndicates operating in Mongkok and Shamshuipo were believed to be making several million dollars a month. ''We estimate their income by looking at a client paying $270 a time and the girls and women taking 15 to 30 customers a day,'' he said. The officer said syndicates used bogus marriages to recruit women.