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Prey Speu detention centre defended after deaths

People sit on the steps of a building at Prey Speu social affairs centre on the outskirts of Phnom Penh in July after they were rounded up by authorities during street sweeps.
People sit on the steps of a building at Prey Speu social affairs centre on the outskirts of Phnom Penh in July after they were rounded up by authorities during street sweeps. Pha Lina

Prey Speu detention centre defended after deaths

Following news yesterday of the recent deaths of two more people at Phnom Penh’s notorious Prey Speu social affairs centre, officials heaped praise on the facility and vowed that detainments there would continue.

The pair, who were rounded up and taken to the centre as part of official efforts to “clean” the streets ahead of last month’s Pchum Ben festival, died just days apart, according to local rights group Licadho.

One man drowned in a pond in the compound, while the cause of a woman’s death was not established prior to her cremation, Licadho said in a statement.

Wan-Hea Lee, country representative of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said the agency had received similar reports.

“According to our sources, the two deaths were of one woman who died while sleeping and one man who died while bathing in the pond.”

They are the second and third deaths at Prey Speu in less than a year.

On Sunday, detainees at the facility, which officially changed its name to Por Sen Chey Vocational Training Centre in 2013, said in interviews that two other men had been taken away to hospital after falling seriously ill.

Staff at the centre refused to reveal which hospital the men had been taken to, while officials from Phnom Penh’s Social Affairs Department have denied any knowledge of the deaths or illnesses.

The head of the department, Son Sophal, yesterday insisted that the centre, which has long been linked to abuses, was a suitable place to send homeless people, sex workers and other “undesirables”.

“We have reformed the centre, so it is better now,” he said. “We have nearly finished our project to build a new building [there] and supply more clean water and toilets for them.”

Kim Vutha, head of security for the capital’s Daun Penh district, said street sweeps and the subsequent detention of people in Prey Speu would continue as part of efforts “to bring public order to our city”.

As of yesterday, Lee of OHCHR said more than 50 people were believed to remain at the centre, though a lack of a systematic registration system meant the exact number was unknown.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said Prey Speu operates in a “totally opaque, unaccountable manner that seems designed to cover up the assorted abuses that happen there”.

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