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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Child-abuse increase feared in Australian policy change

Child-abuse increase feared in Australian policy change

CAMBODIAN children face an increased risk of abuse by Australian pedophiles due to

the cancellation of a specialized Australian police operation, according to an Australian

child protection organization.

The Australian office of End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism (ECPAT) says the

decision in October of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to disband Operation Morocco,

which investigated Australians suspected of committing child-sex crimes abroad, would

result in increasing numbers of Cambodian children being victimized by Australian

pedophiles each year.

"There are many Australian pedophiles who travel to Cambodia to take advantage

of the poverty and vulnerability of the children ... [and] Cambodia is high on the

list of destinations for Australian child sex tourists," said Bernadette McMenamin,

National Director of ECPAT Australia.

"Without a dedicated policing squad who monitors these offenders, I'm afraid

more and more Cambodian children will be victims of Australian pedophiles."

Operation Morocco investigators were instrumental in the 1996 arrest and prosecution

of John Holloway, former Australian Special Envoy to Cambodia. Holloway was later

acquitted due to questions about the reliability of evidence of two Cambodian child

witnesses.

Australian Embassy officials in Phnom Penh denied suggestions that the disbanding

of Operation Morocco was a reversal of Australia's commitment to combating child

sex tourism.

"The Australian government is still committed to stopping child-sex tourism,"

Australian Ambassador Louise Hand told the Post.

Hand speculated that the disbanding of Operation Morocco was a matter of a "reallocation

of funding" within the AFP rather than a funding cut.

"The Australian government shall continue to combat child sex tourism,"

Hand said, adding that Australia is "one of the few countries in the world"

to enact an extraterritoriality law that allows the prosecution of Australians suspected

of committing child-sex offenses abroad.

Reaction to the news of the disbanding of Operation Morocco in Cambodia was mixed.

The Minister of Women's and Veteran's Affairs, Mu Sochua, expressed concern that

the program's cessation would harm efforts to control the trafficking of women and

children in the region.

"I'm very disappointed that the government of Australia, which I perceive as

very supportive of the rights of women and children, has done this," Sochua

said. "For Cambodia, it's very disappointing in the context of Australia play[ing]

a powerful role in assisting governments, civil society and NGOs in combating the

trafficking of women and children. By pulling out [of Operation Morocco], it hurts

the whole region."

Yim Po, Executive Director of the Cambodian Center for the Protection of Children's

Rights (CCPCR), said the relatively minor role played by Australians in child-sex

crimes in Cambodia lessened the impact of the cancellation of the Australian initiative.

"There are not an excessive number of child sex crimes committed by Australians

in Cambodia," Po said. "Australians are around number four on the list

of foreign child-sex offenders, behind the Chinese, Japanese, British and Germans."

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