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
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
"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
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
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
Afesip has alleging that organized crime syndicates are
applying pressure on the government to stop an investigation on the
"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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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