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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Woman prisoner finds no happiness...

Woman prisoner finds no happiness...

S ITTING on a wooden slat bed with three other women prisoners, Keo Ratha, 29, shyly averted her eyes and occasionally covered her face with her hands.

She was obviously embarrassed with all the attention and fuss surrounding the visitor to her cell in Phnom Penh's Police Judiciary prison last week - that of Justice Michael Kirby.

Had she realized the immaculately-suited Australian was actually the UN's special representative for Human Rights in Cambodia, even Ratha might have found the courage to speak out.

Had she done so, Kirby would have heard a tale that would probably have caused him to cover his own face.

Ratha has been kept in prison for four months so far, without being charged or having seen the inside of a court, she said.

A divorcee with two children aged nine and four, she lived in Memot, near the Vietnamese border in Kampong Cham province.

In July, she lent a man in Memot five chi (about $230). He had borrowed from Ratha twice before and always paid her back but this time, she said, he did not.

The man told her she must travel with him on a moto-taxi to Phnom Penh, where he would repay her the money in full.

They arrived in Kampong Cham and the man told Ratha to stay there for a while and have lunch with the moto-driver. She said the man then stole the motorcycle and did not return.

Ratha said the moto-driver was angry, accused her of being an accomplice and took her to the police to be arrested and taken to Phnom Penh - her first time in the capital.

She was adamant that she committed no crime and had no idea the man was planning to take the motorcycle.

Ratha had left her children in the care of her elderly mother and she had been unable to get a message through to them. She said for all she knew her mother and children probably thought she was dead.

She had been told that she would not get to court and plead her case for another two months.

Kirby talked briefly to the four women prisoners during his visit but did not hear the details of their crimes or arrest. Ratha's story emerged only after he left. Kirby's parting wish to the four was that they eventually put their incarceration behind them and "enjoy a happy life."



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