US Embassy Concerned by Raid on NGO

Police and court officials had no answers for Wednes­day’s armed abduction of 80 recently rescued sex workers from a Phnom Penh women’s shelter, while the US Embassy voiced concern over allegations of police complicity.

The US Embassy on Thursday demanded that authorities provide a detailed account of the raid by a group of about 30 armed men and women on the women’s shelter run by the NGO Afesip.

“We are concerned about allegations of misconduct on the part of police officials,” a US Embassy spokesperson said.

“We ask the police to give a clear, transparent accounting of the forcible re­moval of women and girls…from the protection of [the] NGO Afesip.”

The raid followed a monthslong investigation by the Ministry of Interior’s Anti-Trafficking Department that culminated in the largest human-trafficking bust this year, officers said.

Eighty-three sex workers—many of whom were underage—were rescued Tuesday evening from the Chai Hour II Hotel in Phsar Depot III commune, Tuol Kok district, by anti-trafficking police working in conjunction with Afesip and municipal prosecutors.

Seven suspects—five men and two women—were arrested in the hotel raid, but released only hours later on the orders of a yet unidentified official, Interior Ministry and court officials said Thursday

It was not known Thursday whether those suspects were behind the freeing of the sex workers, nor whether the sex workers had been taken back to the Chai Hour II Hotel.

Municipal Court Deputy Pros­ecutor Siem Sok Aun, who took part in the bust at the Chai Hour II Hotel, said Thursday he was not responsible for the suspects’ release because he never re­ceived police reports from the Interior Ministry’s Anti-Traf­ficking Department.

Thong Kim Heng, bureau chief at the Anti-Trafficking Depart­ment, said Thursday he also knew nothing about the circumstances concerning the suspects’ release.

But, he added: “We did interrogate them.”

A source familiar with the In­terior Ministry’s Anti-Traf­ficking Department said Thurs­day that the decision to release the suspects was forced upon the department from above.

“Someone made the decision to release them. It was not the courts,” the source said.

Meanwhile, municipal penal police Chief Chuon Narin said Thursday he had no information about the abduction of the sex workers. He said police were investigating.

“Afesip did not report or complain [about the incident] to the police,” he said.

Afesip’s legal adviser Aarti Kapoor disputed that claim saying that municipal, district and anti-trafficking department police were called as the raid was taking place, and officers’ arrived 15 minutes after the incident.

The incident could harm efforts to bolster Cambodia’s image on anti-human trafficking, said Mu Sochua, the former minister of women’s affairs and now a Cab­inet member for the Sam Rainsy Par­ty.

“The incident has to be treated very seriously,” she said. “If an order from the very top of the gov­ernment is not issued to in­vestigate the incident, it will seriously affect Cambodia’s standing in the international community.”

Earlier this year, the US Em­bassy commended Cam­bodia in its 2004 Global Traff­icking Re­port, citing positive steps made by authorities in 2003 to curb human-trafficking in the region.

The report added, however, that Cambodia’s efforts in the matter were frequently undermined by institutionalized corruption and a weak judiciary.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said he knew nothing about the raid at the Chai Hour II Hotel or the subsequent assault on Afesip’s women’s shelter.

Only three employees re­mained at Afesip’s Phnom Penh headquarters Thursday.

All other staff members, including Afesip President Somaly Mam, were either keeping a low profile or seeking embassy protection amid ongoing concerns about  sec­urity.

The French and US embassies said Thursday they were helping Afesip staff members secure their safety.

Afesip’s Aarti Kapoor said the NGO was considering closing its offices.

“What does this mean when [the suspects] are released without any information and allowed to take our women by force?” she asked.

“It’s a real disaster for us, and we’re waiting to see how the government is going to react.”


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