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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Adoptions still on - embassy

Adoptions still on - embassy

THE US Embassy remains "open for business", despite the recent rejection of

visas for 13 children adopted by couples from the US, said Ambassador Kent

Wiedemann. Eight had been adopted from the Asian Orphans' Association (AOA), the

orphanage at the center of two trafficking investigations.

Director of

Social Affairs for Kandal province, Touch Phom, said another four children were

from the state-run Cambodian Hungarian Friendship Orphanage, and one from a

third institution.

Wiedemann said the current case would not affect any

of the roughly 600 adoptions approved so far this year, adding that the embassy

was currently making appointments with other prospective parents. He warned the

embassy would be much more careful about issuing visas in

future.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith rejected the idea of the

government imposing a moratorium as a result of the fraud

allegations.

"Up to this time we have no specific information about these

cases. There [would have to be a full] investigation before we [would] instigate

a moratorium on adoptions," he said. "We cannot do it just based on an

allegation."

The fate of the children who were denied visas, however,

remains in an uncertain legal limbo, with the Cambodian government recognizing

the adoption and the US Government alleging fraud.

"They are Cambodian

children, and that's about all I can say about their status. [Their adoption

status] is the responsibility of the Cambodian government but that's separate

from whether a child is a legitimate orphan and eligible for a visa to travel to

the United States," Wiedemann said.

Child welfare department director at

the Ministry of Social Affairs, Mao Sovadei, said he did not know whether any of

the babies were registered with his department but, if not, he "would not

recognize them".

"I do not know anything [about the allegations of

fraud]. It is the affair of the US Embassy [to suspend visas]," Sovadei said.

"The adoptive parents said they will not return those babies to my

center. They asked someone they trust to look after them," said Puth Serey,

president of the Asian Orphan's Association from which eight of the children

were adopted.

One of those parents, Don Korta, in an email to the Post

November 17, wrote: "We plan on appealing it at this time. We cannot do that

though until we receive our 'official' letter from INS [Immigration and

Naturalization Service]. The US Embassy provided us with no other

options."

The parents have 30 days from receipt of the INS letter to

appeal the decision. Korta indicated that he doubted the strength of the INS

evidence.

"The ambassador [in a phone call to Korta's wife Linda]

referred to our children as being 'taken from their mothers and trafficked'.

When she asked him if the children would be given back to their mothers if we

did not appeal, he stated he doubted anyone would ever know who the mothers

are," Korta wrote. "How can they know they were taken from their mothers, if

they don't even know who the mothers are?"

Wiedemann said it was

unfortunate that parents felt embittered about US authorities' handling of the

case.

"Clearly they are being victimized by those perpetrating the fraud

and not by those in the INS which is protecting them from being party to fraud,"

he said.

Wiedemann said the decision to reject visa applications was not

a blanket ruling against adoptions in Cambodia or against any particular

adoption facilitators, saying that each case had been examined

individually.

"We've done full field investigations talking to

individuals who are involved in the whole document chain of each case. [The

purpose of the investigation was] to determine under US law if the children are

eligible to be adopted, that it's clear that they are orphans and they have

adequate documents as such. The investigations showed that they have not and

they likely are not legitimate orphans," the ambassador said.

However,

AOA president Serey rejects allegations of fraud.

"The US Embassy said

the adoption papers are a forgery. I understand that is not true because the

papers were screened appropriately by the government. If it is true, I am the

first [who will] land in jail," he said.

While the US would not suspend

adoptions altogether, Wiedemann said that he was having ongoing discussions with

MOSALVY and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"I'm discussing ways in

which to eradicate fraud and trafficking in children for the purposes of

adoption ... in order to facilitate our services to American citizens and to

protect them and Cambodian children and their birth parents," he said.

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