KEY witnesses in the baby trafficking case against staff of the Asian Orphans Association
(AOA) have withdrawn their testimony, according to letters obtained by the Post.
The mother of two allegedly trafficked children, and Chea Kamsan, Tuol Kork's deputy
chief of police, have both written to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court withdrawing
their testimony from the criminal investigation.
Licadho acting director Naly Pilorge said she was surprised at the letters, particularly
that of the deputy police chief.
"To my knowledge the police are obliged to report on any criminal case they
are involved in," she said, adding that the investigating judge had to proceed
regardless. "This will make it more difficult but there are other elements to
Chea Kamsan could not be contacted for comment.
On September 3 a Phnom Penh woman, Deung Pheap, sought the assistance of human rights
NGO Licadho to retrieve two children she claimed to have sold to a Tuol Kork brothel
Licadho investigators traced the children to a 'clinic' associated with AOA and enlisted
police help to retrieve the children. To the surprise of police the subsequent raid
netted ten babies and two children and resulted in the arrest of four staff members
of the clinic.
When they were released the following day without investigation, observers suspected
interference in the case. Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the investigation reopened.
The four were subsequently re-charged, but this sudden withdrawal leaves the viability
of the criminal case in doubt.
In a letter dated January 29, 2002 deputy commissioner Kamsan wrote that he did not
know about baby trafficking.
"I just know that AOA is a legal center and has carried out humanitarian activity,"
In separate letters to the Phnom Penh Municipal judge and the investigating judge,
Deung Pheap wrote that she would like to withdraw her complaint of human trafficking
against Chan Sareun, the director of the clinic.
"He did not buy or sell my children, but he is the friend of my husband and
I pleaded with him to take my two children to keep in an orphanage center because
I have HIV," Pheap wrote.
She alleged that Licadho persuaded her to complain and offered to give her money
and feed her children if she agreed to pursue the case.
"That's absolutely not true," said Pilorge. "It's up to the client
and the victim to decide whether to proceed or not."
After the raid Licadho was granted temporary custody of the 'orphans'. In a separate
civil case Licadho first lost custody in the Municipal Court and then regained custody
on appeal. The human rights NGO left the children in the care of the orphanage to
prevent traumatizing them pending an upcoming Supreme Court appeal by AOA.
Meanwhile the US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) will temporarily lift
its ban on adoptions from Cambodia to allow up to 200 "pipeline" adoptions
to be completed within the next two months. The September 3 raid sparked off a rash
of investigations which culminated in the INS suspending adoptions from Cambodia
The suspension has affected up to 500 would-be adoptive parents but only the 100
applicants in the final stages of adoption and possibly another well-advanced 100
applicants will be granted visas, according to INS statements.
The INS and the US Embassy in Cambodia have come under heavy pressure from parents
and sympathetic members of the US Congress.
Meanwhile, Hollywood couple Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton finalized the adoption
of a baby boy from Cambodia March 10 despite Cambodian government assurances that
adoptions would not be approved while the INS suspension remained in place.
The Post has learnt the film star couple adopted through controversial Hawaii-based
adoption facilitator Lauryn Galindo, who is believed to have personally taken the
child to Africa where Jolie is working on a film.
However, since the six and half month old boy traveled on a Cambodian passport, the
couple and baby will need to return to the US Embassy in Phnom Penh to seek a visa
before they can take the baby to the US.