Interior Minister Sar Kheng this week said that he is aware there are government officials working with human traffickers in the sale of Cambodian people, and promised punishment should they fail to stop the practice and “change into good people”.
Kheng, who has over the past year acknowledged a number of grievous shortcomings in the government, said during a Sunday speech on trafficking on Phnom Penh’s Koh Pich island that the scourge of trafficking was being facilitated by the people who should be fighting it.
“The government officials who are creating problems, and conspiring with and cooperating with the human-trafficking offenders, or are involved in [any such] actions – even unintentionally – must withdraw themselves urgently and change into good people,” Kheng said. “You cannot hide doing these actions anymore, and you will be punished in compliance with the law.”
He did not say how the officials would be identified or punished, and Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak could not be reached. Keo Thea, head of the Phnom Penh police’s anti-trafficking unit, said his police were always looking for those involved in trafficking.
“We have been working very hard,” Thea said, adding he was not afraid Kheng was referring to corrupt trafficking police. “His remarks were not directed at any [particular] officers and referred to officers in general . . . He has warned all officials – both civil and the armed forces.”
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said Kheng was correct to say officials were involved in human trafficking but may in fact have underplayed the role that officials have in the lucrative business.
“They do not have links [to human traffickers] like small threads, they have links like rope as big as their ankles,” the opposition spokesman said. “This big rope requires huge reforms to change it.
“In the past, I have seen many remarks and laws, but there was no one listening or implementing it . . . and the problem has gotten bigger and bigger.”
Am Sam Ath, technical coordinator with rights group Licadho, said he welcomed Kheng’s speech but added that no officials would be scared of invovement in trafficking unless there were arrests.
“We want to see the authorities involved in human trafficking investigated and brought to justice. If they do not take action against them, they will not be scared and will continue to do it,” he said.