NGO in Hun Sen’s Crosshairs Remains Open, Under Investigation

An anti-sex trafficking NGO Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered shuttered and expelled from Cambodia was still open, but under investigation on Wednesday, an Interior Ministry official said.

Staff at the Svay Pak operations of Agape International Missions (AIM), which the prime minister accused of “a serious insult” for saying that some mothers sell their daughters into the sex trade, meanwhile continued to go about their regular work.

cam photo hun sen facebook
Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks at a graduation ceremony for law students in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, in photograph posted to his Facebook page.

In a blistering speech on Tuesday, the premier railed against a CNN story last week featuring AIM’s work, insisting it was not true that mothers were selling their daughters and accusing the NGO of using Cambodia to raise donations. He ordered the interior and foreign affairs ministries to quickly investigate AIM and shut it down.

By on Wednesday evening, however, the Christian NGO was still up and running with no signs of imminent closure.

“Police are still investigating the case,” said Chou Bun Eng, vice chair of the Interior Ministry’s anti-human trafficking office, which is leading the probe. “I am still waiting for the report.”

Officials at the Foreign Affairs Ministry could not be reached. Government spokesman Phay Siphan said he was unaware of the government’s plans for AIM and referred all questions back to the Interior Ministry.

In his tirade, the prime minister said the children currently in AIM’s care would be the government’s responsibility once the NGO was shut down.

Ros Sokha, director of child welfare at the Social Affairs Ministry, however, said on Wednesday that he was not aware of any preparations to take them on.

AIM founder Don Brewster has declined to comment since the Interior Ministry announced the investigation on Friday.

In Svay Pak, the Phnom Penh neighborhood where the NGO does most of its work, AIM staff declined to speak with reporters on the record, but were carrying on with work as usual.

Locals passed in and out of the NGO’s community center and gym, children attended class, and women were busy at sewing machines at the group’s garment shop. Construction workers continued to lay the ground for a new school and church.

Svay Pak, once notorious for trafficking children into prostitution on open sale, was featured in a 2013 CNN documentary. AIM says most local girls are now safe from the sex trade, and the government insists the neighborhood no longer has any child sex trafficking.

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