Police Official Investigated In NGO Raid

The head of the Interior Min­istry’s Anti-Trafficking De­part­ment said Tuesday she is under in­vest­igation in connection with the alleged Dec 8 abduction of 91 women and girls from a women’s shelter run by the NGO Afesip last week.

The alleged abduction followed a raid on a Phnom Penh hotel sus­pected of being a front for organized prostitution. The raid was led by Un Sokunthea, the ministry’s anti-trafficking department head. She was assisted by a municipal court prosecutor and Afesip.

“I cannot comment now be­cause I am under investigation,” she said when reached by telephone Tuesday morning. “I do not know if I have been fired.”

Following the Dec 7 bust on the Chai Hour II Hotel, 83 women and girls were taken to Afesip’s women’s shelter where they were being detained by police. But after spending a night there, Afesip reported that they, and eight others staying at the shelter, were abducted by a group of 30 men and women.

The Interior Ministry disputed the NGO’s claim with a statement Sunday, saying the women and girls broke out of the shelter with only the aid of family and friends. The ministry also promised to form an Inter-Ministerial Committee to investigate the matter further.

Mu Sochua, former minister of women’s affairs and opposition party Cabinet member, voiced adamant support for Un Sokunthea on Tuesday.

“I am really disappointed that the Interior Ministry has taken this very strong stance against a high-ranking public official who has fulfilled her responsibility,” Mu Sochua said. “She is a great example of someone who has given her best to combat trafficking and the exploitation of women in Cambodia,” she said.

Afesip Director Pierre Legros also voiced support for the beleaguered anti-trafficking chief, and denounced the Interior Ministry for using Un Sokunthea as a scapegoat.

“I don’t understand why the ministry has targeted her because she did a good job. It shows there is a huge problem inside the government,” he said, by phone from Bangkok Tuesday.

He added: “I want justice also for the civil servants who are doing their job in very complicated circumstances.”

Afesip held a press conference in Bangkok Tuesday morning, addressing the alleged raid on their shelter.

“AFESIP would like to exhibit this case as a good example of the influence of Organized Crime at [a] Political Level,” the NGO said.

In a statement, Legros added: “Why do such organized criminal syndicates have better access to political influences than those …promoting justice and the eradication of slavery?”

Afesip welcomed the government’s decision to establish an Inter-Ministerial Committee, but called for the inclusion of representatives from foreign diplomatic missions, the UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking, as well as national and international NGOs to observe the investigations.

Afesip also called on recognized foreign police specialists to participate in the investigation, citing the Australian Federal Police Force as an example.

The Australian Embassy, which has provided funds to the government for several anti-trafficking initiatives, declined to issue immediately comment Tuesday. But a source familiar with the Interior Ministry speculated that the request was not realistic.

“Politically and technically they cannot get involved,” he said. “It is the role of the Cambodian police and Cambodian police only.”

Legros defended his organization’s actions in Cambodia, saying that active participation was the only way to really affect change in the country.

“I am tired of people saying we have gone to far,” Legros said. “When you are an activist, you have to take risks.”

Following calls for a full investigation this week from the US Embassy and EU Embassies in Phnom Penh, EU Embassies in Bangkok on Tuesday condemned the alleged abduction of women and girls from the Afesip shelter, and urged the government “to take immediate steps to locate and rescue those abducted.”



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