Orphanage Director Released, Back at Work

The director of a Siem Reap orphanage who was arrested in March for allegedly abusing two girls under his care has been released after one of the girls recanted her statement, officials said Monday.

Morn Savuth, director of Siem Reap City’s Angkor Orphan and Education Organization (AOEO), was released from provincial prison last Friday and immediately returned to his position at the orphanage where there are about 20 children aged 5- to 18-years-old—including one of his alleged victims—under his care.

“We did not find any concrete evidence [of sexual abuse] and one of the girls also recanted her statements from March that accused the suspect,” provincial Judge Kay Sao said Monday in defense of his decision to release the orphanage director.

Anti-human trafficking police arrested Mr. Savuth in March after the two girls, 11- and 12-years-old, said that he had repeatedly taken them to his bedroom where he ordered them to undress, touched them inappropriately and raped the 12-year-old.

The Siem Reap Provincial Court initially charged Mr. Savuth with sexual abuse in the case of the elder girl, but not the younger. Judge Sao added that when he questioned the victim late last month, the 12-year-old told him that an unidentified man working at AOEO had forced her to lie about the alleged rape.

Local rights group Licadho, which first informed the police of the al­leged abuse, has raised concerns over the case, saying that it was still not clear whether Mr. Savuth was innocent. Licadho monitor Nou Puthi also said that because Mr. Savuth was still in a position of power at the or­phanage, despite being in jail, it could have exerted pressure on the two young girls to withdraw their testimony. “We will continue to investigate the case,” Ms. Puthi said.

After Mr. Savuth’s arrest, the two girls were taken to a shelter for human-trafficking victims run by Agir Pour Les Femmes en Situation Precaire (Afesip).

While the 11-year-old girl remains at the shelter, Afesip executive director Chhoeurth Sao said that the 12-year-old had left the shelter to return to the orphanage.

“One of them is under our care, and the other one, she decided to leave,” Mr. Sao said, adding that he was unclear why the 12-year-old had left the shelter.

Nab Phan, head of child health at the provincial department of social affairs, said that as Mr. Savuth had not been convicted of a crime, he would remain as director of the orphanage.

© 2013, All rights reserved.