More Questions Over Somaly Mam’s Kidnapping Claim

A second former staff member of anti-trafficking organization Afesip has cast doubts over long-standing claims by the NGO’s president, Somaly Mam, that her daughter was kidnapped by human traffickers in 2006 in retaliation for her work with victims of the sex trade.

The alleged kidnapping, which was referred to in a speech by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon earlier this month, was also refuted on Sunday by Afesip’s former director and Ms. Mam’s ex-husband Pierre Legros.

Mr. Legros said that his daughter was not kidnapped, but had run away with her boyfriend in 2006 and that he was speaking out now in order to protect the privacy of daughter, whom he claimed was being used as “marketing” for the Somaly Mam Foundation.

Officials at Afesip in Phnom Penh have referred all questions regarding the alleged kidnapping to the spokesperson of the Somaly Mam Foundation, who said a response was pending while Ms. Mam receives minor medical treatment.

Aarti Kapoor, a legal adviser at Afesip between 2003 and 2006, said that colleagues at the organization in 2006 informed her that Ms. Mam’s daughter had run away from home, and that there was not mention of abduction at that time.

“My understanding at the time was that she had not been kidnapped, and that she ran away with her boyfriend,” Ms. Kapoor said yesterday by telephone from Bangkok. “It was her third attempt at running away. Her parents were in a divorce and had separated. It was just an unfortunate incident where she ran away from home.”

Ms. Kapoor added in an email that she was only made aware of the allegation that Ms. Mam’s daughter had been kidnapped by a BBC journalist in 2006, and that she was so surprised by the new version of the alleged events that she asked the journalist to not report on the allegations, which he deemed to be unethical and an invasion of the privacy of the child.

“I also questioned the veracity of some of the alleged facts,” Ms. Kapoor wrote.

A global spokeswoman for victims of human trafficking, Ms. Mam first claimed that her teen-aged daughter had been kidnapped by human traffickers and taken to Battambang in an article in Glamour Magazine in 2006. The story, as recounted by Ms. Mam in her many public appearances since to promote the plight of Cambodia’s trafficking victims, has evolved to include serious crimes allegedly perpetrated against her daughter while being held by her abductors in Battambang province. Ms. Mam has linked the alleged kidnap and abuse of her daughter to a much-publicized anti-human trafficking raid in 2004 on the Chai Hour II Hotel in Phnom Penh.

U.N. Secretary-General Ki-moon made reference to the alleged kidnapping on April 3 during an appearance by Ms. Mam at a U.N. panel on anti-trafficking in New York.

“Ms. Mam also endured terrible atrocities. Not only was she the victim of human trafficking, but after she escaped, her daughter was kidnapped as well. It is quite possible that the kidnappers were targeting Somaly’s family because she is fighting against them,” Mr. Ki-moon said.

In her presentation to the U.N. panel, Ms. Mam also claimed that eight girls were taken from her refuge and killed by the Cambodian army following the high-profile Chai Hour II Hotel raid.

Cambodian police last week described Ms. Mam’s claims that eight girls were killed as outlandish, and they said this week that they had no reports of the Afesip director’s daughter being kidnapped by human traffickers.

While the characterization of the event is being called into question by former Afesip staff, in 2006 then-US Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli sent a note on the incident in a diplomatic cable to Washington as part of his regular, and detailed, updating on the status of trafficking in persons in Cambodia.

In that cable, released by Wikileaks, Ambassador Mussomeli said that Afesip had informed him that Ms. Mam’s daughter was lured by “her peers” to Battambang and that three people were subsequently arrested by Interior Ministry police officers.

“Afesip reported that on May 10, after receiving a mother’s complaint, the police of the Ministry of Interior went to Battambang province to rescue a 14-year-old missing girl. The girl was lured by her peers from Phnom Penh to Battambang province. Afesip said that the perpetrators intended to traffic the girl to Thailand. Police found the girl in a Battambang club under the influence of drugs. Police arrested three suspects and charged them with trafficking. Somaly Mam, Afesip’s president. Somaly complimented the police on their great cooperation to find her daughter,” the cable states.

The U.S. State Department’s annual reports on the status of trafficking in persons, however, makes no mention of the kidnapping of Ms. Mam’s daughter in 2006 or in any year thereafter, while James Heenan, deputy representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Phnom Penh, said the U.N. did not have “any knowledge of this incident.”

Deputy National Police Chief Lieutenant General Un Sokunthea said that she had no knowledge of the alleged kidnapping, adding that such a serious crime involving the director of a well-known NGO would not have slipped by unnoticed in Cambodia.

“Somaly was here [in Cambodia]. If there was such a case in 2006, it can’t be held quiet until now,” said Lt. Gen. Sokunthea, who was head of the Interior Ministry’s anti-human trafficking police department at the time of the alleged kidnapping in 2006.

Ten Borany, the acting director of the Interior Ministry’s anti-human trafficking department, said he too knew nothing of the kidnapping, while Sok Kalyan, the former prosecutor in 2006 at Phnom Penh’s municipal court, said that such a case was never brought to his attention.

Two former deputy prosecutors and one current deputy prosecutor at Battambang Provincial Court said on Monday that the alleged kidnapping case had not been brought to their attention.

Ms. Mam’s ex-husband, Mr. Legros, said on Sunday that he wanted his ex-wife to stop publicizing the alleged kidnapping of his daughter and that it had gone too far that the U.N. Secretary-General had taken up the cause.

“She has never been kidnapped by anyone. She escaped from home because at that time I was not there and she have a few arguments with Somaly. She escaped with her boyfriend and she disappeared and Somaly discovered her in Battambang,” Mr. Legros said.

“I would like the privacy of my daughter to be private…. She [Ms. Mam] has used that for many years and now I am fed up.”

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