Employees of Orphanage Face Charges

Human rights workers and officials were surprised and pleased to learn Thursday that four people connected with the Asian Orphans Association have been charged with child trafficking.

“We are pleased that the prosecutor is considering this case seriously,” said Naly Pilorge, acting director of the human rights group Licadho. “We hope that now the babies and children can go to [an NGO] that is safe for them.”

Prosecutor Sok Roeun of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court said one man and three women were charged Tuesday under Article 3 of the human trafficking law, though none has been de­tained by police yet.

The AOA’s difficulties began on Sept 3, when police raided a house in Tuol Kok and confisca­ted 10 children and two infants in a suspected black market adoption scam.

Four people were arrested, but released the next day when they produced documents showing legal rights to the children. Those same four people were charged Tuesday.

“They were charged now because during the investigation, police found evidence linking them to illegal trafficking,” Sok Roeun said. He identified them as Yong Darika, 41; Chan Saroeut, 32; Roth Chantho, 30; and Sok Kha, 27. The last two worked as foster mothers at the orphanage, he said.

Chhit Boravuth, the lawyer for AOA, said: “The investigation will show that my clients are not guilty. They have done nothing wrong.” He declined further comment.

The raid and subsequent quick release of suspects last month drew heated criticism from child welfare and human rights groups, and sparked a battle for custody of the children.

Workers for Licadho had taken the children after the initial raid, placing them with an unnamed international NGO while the matter was litigated. Officials from AOA went to court to get the children back, saying they ran a legal operation and had the right to keep the children.

The controversy has left several US citizens who had adopted Cambodian children unable to get visas for the children. While the US Embassy will not comment on the case, a warning posted on its Web site says the US Immigration and Naturalization Service and embassy officials are investigating “anomalies” in adoptions and to expect delays.

Both Prime Minister Hun Sen and Mu Sochua, minister of Women’s and Veterans’ Affairs, had urged further investigation of the trafficking claims against AOA.

Mu Sochua said Thursday she was delighted to hear the investigation is continuing and praised the ministries of Justice and Interior for not letting the case drop.

The children were returned to AOA Wednesday after a court ruled on Monday that the orphanage had legal custody. Kim Huorn, police chief of the Tuol Kok district, said Thursday the children were being housed at an AOA facility, though not at the same facility where the original raid was conducted.

Pilorge said the child trafficking charges are a criminal matter, while custody of the children is a separate civil matter. She said Licadho is appealing the custody ruling.

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