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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Heads roll after big brothel raid

Heads roll after big brothel raid

Anti-human trafficking NGO Afesip has called for an independent investigation

into a counter-raid on their shelter that freed 83 detainees "rescued" from a

suspected brothel.

On December 7, police arrested eight suspected pimps

and detained female staff working at Chai Hour II hotel in Phnom Penh, but the

following day a mob attacked an Afesip shelter with rocks, breaking down the

gate and freeing the women.

The incident has attracted international

attention, with the United States criticizing the Cambodian government's

suspension of General Un Sokunthea, the authority behind the raid.

Sokunthea and her deputy at the Ministry of Interior's Anti-Human

Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Department (AHTJPD) were suspended on

December 13 by an unsigned order of general commissioner of national police, Hok

Lundy.

"Obviously, any punitive measures against her would call into

question Cambodia's commitment to fighting human trafficking," said Richard

Boucher, spokesman for the US Department of State.

The United States

gives $2.6 million in funding to Afesip through its aid agency

USAID.

Helene Flautre, president of the sub-commission on human rights

for the European Parliament lent her support to Afesip in a December 15 letter,

saying she would pressure the Cambodian government to investigate the

incident.

When the Post asked Sar Kheng, co-Minister of Interior, about

the scandal as he left a conference on good governance and poverty reduction, he

said the matter was "under investigation."

Phnom Penh municipal police

spent hours questioning Afesip staff over the past two days as part of

"unofficial" fact finding and the government has promised to set up an

inter-ministerial committee to investigate, but Afesip said a neutral inquiry

was necessary.

Afesip has alleging that organized crime syndicates are

applying pressure on the government to stop an investigation on the

attack.

"The police said if we go ahead [with future raids] we will be

dead," said Pierre Legros, regional director of Afesip in Southeast Asia, at a

press conference in Bangkok.

A preliminary report by Afesip in September

had found evidence of prostitution and virginity selling at Chai Hour II,

prompting an investigation by the AHTJPD, which organized search warrants for

the raid.

Police - accompanied by staff of Afesip and a French TV crew

raided the 80-room, multi-story complex around 4:30 p.m. on December

7.

It was the biggest raid ever conducted by the anti-trafficking

department, both in terms of the number of women involved and political

influence of the owners, said several sources with knowledge of raids in

Cambodia.

Only one of the 83 girls was underage and no evidence of human

trafficking was found, said Afesip.

Most of the women were placed under

the temporary custody of Afesip and taken to a shelter, aside from a group of

ten who remained overnight at AHTJPD headquarters after questioning.

The

suspects were also held at the AHTJPD's offices but were released the next

morning. The Post could not confirm who gave the order to release the

suspects.

All the women, as well as nine other residents, were at the

shelter at noon the next day when a group of around 30 men and women arrived and

began throwing large rocks over the wall, demanding to be allowed in.

Some witnesses said members of the group were wearing military or

bodyguard uniforms, including one man with a holstered pistol, but the three

hotel workers who spoke to the Post said the mob consisted of family and

friends.

Two policemen from the Ministry of Interior stationed at the

shelter were unable to stop the attack and the group broke down the gate, taking

all 91 girls and women away in cars.

The Post spoke to three women

involved in the raid, who denied they were forced to work as prostitutes and

said underage girls were not employed at Chai Hour II.

They said that

they helped friends and family break down the gate of the shelter in order to

escape the custody of Afesip and around 30 of their colleagues had since

returned voluntarily to work.

"I feel very hurt and plan to sue Afesip

because they libel us as a butterfly that finds the food at night," said Tai

Chakriya, 25, using a euphemism for sex work.

A group of around 50 Chai

Hour II workers held a brief demonstration outside the US Embassy on December

11, protesting against the raid.

Sam Leang, a manager at the hotel,

admitted customers had sex on the premises and that condoms were provided, but

said that it was an individual choice of the 160 female staff.

"I want

to ask Afesip, if I did wrong, illegally, why did the girls that work here come

back after the raid?" asked Leang, who denied his hotel was a venue for virgin

selling, forced prostitution, or sex with underage girls.

The Cambodian

Women's Crisis Center (CWCC), which also runs shelters for women, said brothel

owners occasionally come to collect their workers, but usually leave once police

arrive.

The attack on Afesip was "totally unacceptable" and would be a

"trial case" for the anti-trafficking department, which had gained respect in

the sector over the last two years, said Oung Chanthol, director of CWCC.

"I think it's a failure of the government in protecting the service

provider and protecting the women who are exploited," said Chanthol.

(Additional reporting by Marwaan Macan-Markar, IPS news service in

Bangkok)

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