Authorities have finished their investigation of an anti-sex trafficking NGO Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered closed earlier this month for what he called an “unforgivable” insult, and the group has apologized if it caused offense, an Interior Ministry official said on Thursday.
On August 1, the premier demanded that Agape International Missions (AIM) be swiftly investigated and shut down over a recent CNN story he accused of claiming that the Phnom Penh neighborhood of Svay Pak, once notorious for its child prostitutes, remained a den of underage sex for sale. The government also blasted the report, which features AIM’s work in Svay Pak, for purportedly claiming that mothers selling their children into the sex trade were Cambodian rather than Vietnamese.
“This is a serious insult,” Mr. Hun Sen said at the time. “Whatever the cost, this organization must leave Cambodia and is no longer allowed to stay.”
Despite the threat, AIM has continued to operate while under investigation for what information it did or did not provide CNN for its report. On Thursday, Interior Ministry secretary of state Chou Bun Eng said the investigation had wrapped up.
“The Interior Ministry has collected information in order to evaluate the achievements and flaws of AIM for a final decision on whether this organization should continue to operate or whatever else,” she said.
Ms. Bun Eng, who also serves as vice chair of the national committee to combat human trafficking, said AIM had made “mistakes” but declined to say what they were. She added that in a letter the NGO had “apologized if what it did had affected Cambodian women or Cambodian people.”
The secretary of state said the ministry was preparing a report of its findings for the prime minister, who will have the final say on whether the NGO stays open, but declined to say when it might be finished.
As for CNN, Ms. Bun Eng said the U.S. network’s decision to change its headline on the report was its own admission of a mistake. She said AIM had asked for the alteration.
CNN originally published the report with the headline “Life after trafficking: The Cambodian girls sold for sex by their mothers” but removed “Cambodian” the next day. In a published clarification, the network said it made the change “to more accurately reflect the content of the piece, which refers to girls of Vietnamese descent who were victims of sex trafficking in Cambodia.”
AIM has declined several requests for comment and could not be reached on Thursday. Late last month, days after the government announced its investigation, CNN said it stood by its reporting.
(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)