A USTRALIAN and Cambodian investigators are closing in on foreigners linked to alleged
paedophilia and child pornography in Cambodia, after a police raid on a brothel in
Phnom Penh's Toul Kork red light district.
Six Vietnamese girls aged 11-13, who were purchased by the brothel owner and used
as sex slaves, were rescued in the Oct 13 raid.
The brothel owner, known to locals as Phoung, is being kept in custody and is expected
to be charged under Cambodia's law on human trafficking, which outlaws brothels from
employing child prostitutes.
The girls - who according to the brothel owner were all purchased from their mothers
in Vietnam and smuggled to Cambodia - are directly linked to foreigners operating
within the ring, Cambodian authorities said.
The brothel raid was prompted by an investigation into an Australian man currently
being held in custody in Western Australia, charged with possession of child pornography.
John Lee, 32, a miner, awaiting trial in the iron ore port of Karatha, Western Australia,
was arrested when explicit photographs of Vietnamese and Cambodian girls where found
in his house after a tip-off to local police.
The confiscated pictures, numbering about 200, were allegedly taken during a two-month
visit to Phnom Penh earlier this year. According to sources, the photographs show
about 30 girls, apparently underaged, engaged in sex scenes with several people including
According to a senior Interpol officer, police tracked down a hotel where Lee stayed
during his Phnom Penh visit and, from there, the brothel from which he allegedly
procured the girls.
Investigators kept the brothel under surveillance, with the assistance of aid agencies
including ECPAT (End Child Prostitution Pornography and Trafficking) and CCPCR (Cambodian
Center for the Protection of Children's Rights), before the Oct 13 raid.
Several European men were sighted in the brothel during the surveillance, the Interpol
officer said. The rescued girls will be asked to try to identify the customers, one
of whom is believed to be already known, he added.
The girls may be asked to give evidence against foreigners, including at least one
Australian, under extra-territorial laws which allow alleged "sex tourists"
to be prosecuted in their own countries for sexual crimes committed abroad.
"Australian, Belgian and other police forces have specific investigations underway
in Cambodia to gather the necessary evidence to prosecute these offenders under extra-territorial
laws," the Inter-pol officer said.
Investigators said that they suspect the Toul Kork brothel was a "clearing house"
for young girls trafficked from Vietnam and the Cambodian provinces, with Phoung,
the brothel owner, brokering their sale to other local brothels.
Phoung, in a conversation with a Post correspondent posing as a sex tourist shortly
before her arrest, said that "many girls come through here". She said that
she regularly visited Vietnam to buy young girls, for $200, $300 or $400 - "it
depends on their mothers".
Phoung, who claims to be married to an American and speaks fluent English, said that
most of her customers paying for sex with the girls were foreigners, "because
the Khmers cause too much trouble".
The brothel raid came a week after a Phnom Penh workshop, entitled "Agenda for
Action", was held as part of an agreement hammered out during last year's Stockholm
Congress on Child Exploitation.
Signed by 122 countries, the Stockholm congress called for a five-year plan to eliminate
or drastically reduce child trafficking, prostitution and pornography.
While Cambodia becomes known worldwide as a haven for paedophilia - courtesy, say
many observers, of the Internet, which boasts numerous references to the availability
of children for sex here - there is considerable interest by donor groups in giving
funds to combat child prostitution.
However, the political climate and international publicity about corruption and human
rights abuses in Cambodia are threatening the granting of funding.
At least two NGOs in Cambodia which were involved in the Stockholm Congress are in
danger of closing their doors after funding was pulled as a direct result of the
July coup, sources said.
Meanwhile, donor organizations are reluctant to give funds to the Cambodian police
or government, according to one human rights consultant, who requested anonymity.
"Funding [to combat] sexual exploitation of children and trafficking is not
difficult to find - it's up to accountability, people are reluctant to give money
directly to the Cambodian government."
Accountability was also raised by Mick Kearney, a law enforcement consultant with
ECPAT, in a speech at the workshop. He urged the government to provide tougher penalties
for "military, military police or civilian police officers" who were found
to be "owning brothels or involved in child trafficking or child pornography"
While "frustrated" with police involvement in the trade, Kearney also had
praise for some police officers who had "taken the initiative" to raid
brothels where children or women were forced to sell their bodies.
Commending the police officers who conducted the raid in Toul Kork as "highly
motivated", he said the operation was "another success in combating child
exploitation, especially where expatriates and tourists were the main customers".
Meanwhile, Cambodian police are on the lookout for two Australian men, Alan Shom
and Leon Melzac, both 37, after they jumped bail in Perth. Both men have been charged
with numerous accounts of sexual abuse of a minor. The two men are believed to be
hiding out in Phnom Penh after arriving here in late March.
Cambodia has no formal extradition treaty with Australia, but police sources said
they are willing to cooperate with Australian authorities if the two men are apprehended