US Official Blasts Gov’t Role in Afesip Raid

The US State Department’s Of­fice to Monitor and Combat Traf­fick­ing in Persons blasted the Cam­bodian government on Tues­day for what it called apparent col­lu­sion with human traffickers in the Afesip case.

Speaking by telephone from Wash­ington, the US State Depart­ment’s anti-trafficking chief, Am­bas­­sador John Miller, called the gov­ernment’s handling of the case “egregious and outrageous.”

“I cannot recall, the two years I have been in this job, seeing or hearing about such apparent government complicity in any tier two country in the world,” Miller said, re­ferring to Cambodia’s status on the US global anti-trafficking watchdog list.

“We know Cambodia has been through rough times…but many charitable enterprises and many governments have wanted to help the Cambodian people,” Miller said.

In the wake of the case, governments and NGOs will likely ask whether their aid will help “in the struggle against slavery and trafficking in persons, or will their as­sistance and donations be used to undermine that struggle,” he said.

Miller questioned the legitimacy of the government’s interministerial committee, established to investigate the case, saying there was “evidence to doubt the integrity and honesty of this committee.”

Miller also chastised the government for failing to provide proper security for Afesip following the Dec 8 raid on its shelter, and said National Police Commissioner Hok Lundy appears to have ordered the release of the eight sus­pects who were arrested following the Dec 7 raid on the Chai Hour II Hotel.

“Suddenly, apparently by the chief of police, these people” were released, Miller said.

“It seems to me that the person [who released the suspects] de­serves reprimand, not the head of the anti-trafficking unit,” Miller said, referring to police Brigadier General Un Sokunthea, head of the Interior Ministry’s anti-trafficking department.

The Cambodian government has also failed to respond to communications of strong concern about the case from the US, Miller said. The government should re­arrest the suspects, take the 83 fe­males for questioning by the anti-trafficking department or an NGO to determine whether they are victims, give a statement of sup­port for Un Sokunthea and the anti-trafficking department, and assure security for Afesip, Miller said.

Hok Lundy did not answer re­peated calls for comment Tues­day.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith on Tuesday chastised the US State Department for not having all the facts.

“If the State Department has proof Hok Lundy made the decision, send it to me,” Khieu Kan­harith said. “It’s just hearsay,” he said.

“Why do some people, far away in the US, [who] don’t know all the issues…rush to jump to conclusions?” he said. “The State Depart­ment must be a bit more serious.”

The government invited NGOs to join its investigation into the events, but they declined, and the in­ternational media is only covering Afesip’s side of the case, said Khieu Kanharith, adding that the US State Department should en­courage NGOs to join the government investigation.

Khieu Kanharith said the government would be happy to provide 24-hour security to Afesip, but any decision to rearrest the suspects is up to the courts.

The government has done everything to try and comply with international procedures regarding the case, said Khieu Kanharith who warned that sanctions would affect Cambodia’s poor. (Addition­al reporting by Yun Samean)

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