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NGO questioning postponed

NGO questioning postponed

PHNOM Penh Municipal court has postponed the questioning of a staff member of an international NGO accused of illegally detaining a 17-year-old girl, officials said yesterday.

Va Tong, operational director at World Hope International, was due to appear for questioning late on Tuesday afternoon following a complaint filed by 46-year-old mother Va Ang. She claims that Va Tong has refused to release her daughter from the shelter.

Va Tong declined to comment yesterday, but WHI country director Kristin Wiebe said the prosecutor had “agreed to postpone the date.  No further date has been set”.

The municipal Department of Social Affairs sent the girl to the WHI shelter after police arrested her on suspicion of selling sexual services in a public place on September 21.

Va Ang said that when she tried to collect her daughter from the shelter two days later, Va Tong told her she needed a letter of support from the village chief. She said, however, that when she returned to the shelter with the letter, Va Tong accused her of forgery and, as of Monday, had continued to refuse to allow the girl to leave.

Kristin Wiebe said yesterday that she was unable to provide information about the girl’s whereabouts or other details, citing concerns for her “safety, privacy and protection”.

She added via email that declining to comment on the specifics of an individual’s case “is also required and in line with Cambodia’s National Minimum Standards of Care and Article 49 of the Anti-human Trafficking Law protecting victim confidentiality and privacy”.

She said WHI works closely with the Ministry of Social Affairs to ensure that minors are released into a safe environment.

“To just release the girls into the care of just anyone who walks through the door would be negligent,” she said, adding that WHI and ministry officials would conduct a “full family assessment” before releasing a minor into their care.

“If we figure out that a family is complicit in her trafficking, we would look into longer-term care,” she said.

Va Ang could not be reached for comment yesterday, but her lawyer Yorn Synal said she had appeared for questioning at the municipal court on Tuesday.

Cheat Khmera, Municipal Court deputy prosecutor, could not be reached for comment.

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