US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told a Washington news briefing Tuesday that he was “deeply concerned” by reports that Cambodia’s anti-trafficking police chief was suspended for her role in the Dec 7 raid at a Phnom Penh hotel carried out in conjunction with the NGO Afesip.
“We very much support the work of the Anti-Trafficking Department,” Boucher said, according to a transcript of the news briefing posted on the State Department’s Web site. “We believe that General Un [Sokunthea] should be commended for [her] courageous efforts to investigate this brothel.
“Obviously, any punitive measures against her would call into question Cambodia’s commitment to fight human trafficking,” Boucher added.
Un Sokunthea told a reporter on Tuesday that she was under investigation and did not know whether she has been fired from her post. But Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the chief of the ministry’s anti-trafficking police “still remains on the job and is not under investigation.”
A man who answered Un Sokunthea’s phone Wednesday declined to comment on the issue. “You should talk to her boss,” said the man, who would not give his name.
A source familiar with the Interior Ministry said Wednesday that Un Sokunthea had received a warning letter over her decision to raid the Chai Hour II Hotel where 83 women and girls were placed under the protection of Afesip amid police investigations into under-age prostitution at the hotel. The source also said Un Sokunthea had been removed from the Afesip case, and that a replacement had not yet been named.
Adopting a more active role in the alleged Dec 8 abduction of the 83 women and girls, and eight others, from Afesip’s women’s shelter, a US Embassy spokesman confirmed Wednesday that the embassy had commenced to “gather information” and had dispatched an investigator to question witnesses to the incident.
Responding to an Afesip request that Australian Federal Police specialists participate in the government’s inter-ministerial investigation into the matter, the Australian Embassy said Wednesday that the investigation was a matter for Cambodian law enforcement only.
However, an Australian embassy spokesperson said that they would be open to considering such a request from the Cambodian government.
Senior police officials spent four hours interviewing Afesip staff Wednesday at their offices in Tuol Kok district regarding allegations of police complicity in the alleged raid.
“Police are interested in a man with a pistol on his waist wearing police trousers,” said Hy Prou, municipal deputy police chief in charge of central security. “We need to figure out his appearance…to know who is behind this,” he said, referring to an individual spotted among some 30 men and women who allegedly raided the shelter.
Other senior officers present at the interviewing included Tuol Kok district police Chief Hun Song, Municipal judicial police Deputy Chief Reach Sokhom, and municipal foreign police Chief Pol Phiethey.
Police said the interviewing was not part of the government inter-ministerial investigation, but a fact-finding mission ordered by municipal police Chief Heng Pov.
Despite continual pleas for 24-hour security, police told Afesip Legal Adviser Aarti Kapoor that there was no longer any danger. “They said the people got their girls back and it was unlikely that they would come back for our staff,’” she said on Wednesday.
Afesip President Somaly Mum, however, was still visibly shaken Wednesday, saying she no longer feels safe in Phnom Penh.