Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Police aim for child sex suspects

Police aim for child sex suspects

Police aim for child sex suspects

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

Lee.

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

here.

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