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City tight-lipped on Koh Kor

City tight-lipped on Koh Kor

ONE year after authorities closed a government-run rehabilitation centre following reports of widespread inmate abuse, municipal officials on Tuesday refused to rule out re-opening the facility, with one noting that it was undergoing "renovations".

Koh Kor rehabilitation centre, located on an island in the Bassac River, was emptied in June 2008 after reports that dozens of men, women and children held at the centre were being beaten or starved drew the attention of the UN and local NGOs.

At least two people detained at the centre died, including one boy who had attempted to swim to shore.

Before its closure, the centre housed beggars, the homeless and the mentally ill, groups of people that have also been included in a recent set of city sweeps that the rights group Licadho condemned on Sunday.

Sorn Sophal, director of the Phnom Penh Social Affairs Department, said Tuesday that he did not know the details of any plans to reopen the center because the building was currently "under renovation".

He said some of those who had been collected from the streets this year had been taken to Prey Speu rehabilitation centre in Choam Chao
district.

In an interview with the Post Tuesday, Chea Saroeun, Koh Kor's director, said the "renovations" mentioned by Sorn Sophal involved only a repainting of the building, adding that there was no set date for a reopening.

"[I do] not know when the centre will reopen again because there are a lot of reactions," he said.

He said that the centre had temporarily reopened two months ago to house 80 beggars and homeless people, but had closed after they requested to be housed in a different centre.

"We reopened for a short period to take in 80 people ... but they did not like living there, so we closed it," he said, adding that the people had gone back to their hometowns or had been passed on to "partner organisations".

Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema on Tuesday met with municipal authorities to further address the issue of "vagrants" in the city.

The governor declined to comment on whether Koh Kor would house people caught up in future sweeps.

Sorn Sophal said the municipality was still "in discussion about how to manage those people" and would not comment further.

'Deeply concerned': groups
Rights groups warned Tuesday that the reopening of Koh Kor would constitute a huge blow to human rights.

"We would be deeply concerned if the social affairs centre at Koh Kor is reopened," said Naly Pilorge, director of the rights group Licadho, which conducted the investigation that led to the centre's closure.

"The only logical reason to put a so-called 'rehabilitation' centre on an island is if it is in fact a detention center and the authorities wish to make it harder for people to escape from it," she added.

Joe Amon, director of the health and human rights division of Human Rights Watch, said the government should "investigate past abuses of torture, ill-treatment, rape and killings that occurred in social affairs centres and hold accountable those responsible".

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