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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

CAMBODIA: Human trafficking likely to increase

PHNOM PENH, 17 September 2008 (IRIN) - Trafficking in Cambodia is set to rise with the sharp increase in food and fuel prices, according to humanitarian workers.

"The lure of a better life and a secure income is bound to trap more unsuspecting youngsters into the grip of these trafficking rings," Lim Tith, project coordinator for the UN Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking (UNIAP) in Cambodia, told IRIN.

"Trafficking is a mega-problem in Cambodia," said Vicheth Tuon, chief executive officer of the NGO Coalition to Address Trafficking and (Sexual) Exploitation of Children in Cambodia (COSECAM).

"It's becoming a critical issue that needs to be tackled head-on, in a coordinated and comprehensive way," he said.

According to the UN, men, women and children are susceptible to trafficking, with some trafficked inside the country and others sent abroad - mostly for labour exploitation.

Some women and children are recruited from the countryside by gangs and inducted into the sex trade in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, while most end up in domestic service, factories, ships or as beggars.

"I came to Phnom Penh to work in a restaurant," a 22-year-old bar-girl, Pong Ly Kaeng, said. "The owner came to our village in Svay Raeng and promised my sister he would look after me and pay me a good salary. So I went with him. But I left when the owner tried to make me have sex with a customer. Then my cousin found me a job in the bar. But I don't sleep with all my customers."

Such stories are typical among the girls working in the capital's entertainment industry, in "hostess" bars, Karaoke clubs, beer gardens and brothels.

"At least 20 percent of sex workers in Phnom Penh have been trafficked," said Lim. "It is difficult to estimate the number of people being trafficked into Phnom Penh to be commercial sex workers, but it is a constant stream, probably between 200 and 500 a month," he said.

Trafficking abroad

But there have also been reports of women being trafficked abroad for sexual exploitation.

"A few years ago there was a major case of Cambodian women being smuggled into Somalia," said Lim. "There have also been a few cases of women being transported to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to become commercial sex workers. Of course there are also many Vietnamese women who have been trafficked from southern Vietnam to work in Phnom Penh's sex industry," he said.

Many of them are under-age, a Cambodian aid worker who monitors the situation, told IRIN.

Another disturbing trend is children being trafficked to neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam to work as street sellers or beggars.

Most of the girls selling flowers in Bangkok's red light districts are Cambodians - including seven-year-old Kimmi from Phnom Penh, who has been selling roses in Nana for more than two years after her father sold her to a trafficker for US$50.

Cambodian children, especially from the western provinces, are being trafficked to Vietnam to beg and to a lesser extent work as scavengers in the southern city of Ho Chi Minh.

"Handicapped children are particularly vulnerable, as they are believed to be more effective beggars," said Lim, adding that up to 700 children a month were being trafficked across the border.

Cheap labour

Yet most Cambodians who are trafficked end up in sweat shops, construction sites, fishing trawlers and domestic service, mainly in Malaysia, Thailand and Taiwan.

"One of our current concerns is Cambodian men who are being trafficked to work on fishing boats in Malaysia and Thailand," Lim said.

More than 4,000 a year were being trafficked, passing through a network, from one local recruiter to another in Phnom Penh or the border town of Poipet, to a Thai gang and then sold on to a boat, he said.

Conditions on many of the boats, which go out to sea for up to six months, are reportedly intolerable, with few safety precautions taken.

"Once on the fishing boat, life is unbearable; we get little to eat and are often beaten," Kong, a former Cambodian fisherman on a boat based in southern Thailand, said. "It's so bad there are only two choices: commit suicide or jump ship," he said.

According to the UN, more than 200,000 trafficked Cambodians are working in factories and boats in Malaysia and Thailand.

"The situation remains critical, and the fact that it remains hidden makes it much harder for the government and development workers," Tuon said.
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Remarks by Deputy Secretary Negroponte in Cambodia

It is a pleasure to be in Cambodia and to see the progress that has been made over the past several years. I have had a number of productive meetings, including with Prime Minister Hun Sen and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong. We discussed the many positive ways that the United States and Cambodia cooperate, and we explored ways to deepen our bilateral relationship. My trip here is also an opportunity to emphasize our commitment to strong regional engagement in Asia.

The United States and Cambodia have a good and growing relationship. We are working together to improve the lives of Cambodians. The first Peace Corps volunteers recently marked their one-year anniversary. We are spending roughly $32 million per year in Cambodia to improve health and are cooperating closely to address HIV/AIDS and avian influenza. We are also working together in the areas of refugee matters, cultural preservation, and humanitarian demining. Our military-to-military relationship is growing stronger, and we value interaction with Cambodia in the areas of counter-terrorism, law enforcement, and POW/MIA matters.

We welcome Cambodia’s increasing involvement in solving regional and global problems. Once the beneficiary of a United Nations peacekeeping operation, Cambodia today has peacekeepers deployed in Sudan. Cambodians have also provided demining assistance to Afghanistan and Iraq.
We have also been impressed with the strides that Cambodia has made in its efforts to combat trafficking in persons in recent years, and the progress of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. The State Department intends to work with Congress to make available an initial contribution of $1.8 million this year to support the tribunal. We expect to be active among donors to the tribunal to ensure that it continues to improve its management and addresses the issue of corruption. This decision to seek funding for the court reflects our commitment to see this process through to its conclusion and to help Cambodians build a society based on the rule of law.

In all of my meetings, I also stressed the importance that the United States places on respect for human rights, open access to the media, and a free and fair electoral process.

Relations between the United States and Cambodia are at a high point, but there is more work to do. We look forward to continuing our efforts with the Royal Government of Cambodia to strengthen the rule of law and further economic development.

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Cambodia, Thailand trade jibes in border spat

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Cambodia and Thailand swapped accusations of violating each other's territory Wednesday in a simmering spat about disputed land near ancient temples along their border.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday accused Thai soldiers of being thieves "creating anarchy" around border areas, including at the ancient Ta Moan and Ta Kwai temples.

"We cannot accept this act," Hun Sen said, calling for fresh border talks with Thailand.

"I am wondering who ordered the troops to come over or whether they are thieves because they (the Thai government) said they did not order them. So it must mean they are thieves," the premier said.

The Thai foreign ministry in return issued a statement protesting that Cambodian soldiers had violated Thailand's sovereignty by periodically occupying Ta Kwai temple in August and September.

The statement called on the two countries to resolve their boundary issues in "a just and peaceful manner in accordance with international law."

Hun Sen has publicly hinted in recent weeks that he might take his boundary complaints to the UN Security Council or international courts if the neighbours cannot meet soon to resolve their border disagreement.

Much of their border remains in dispute, and demarcation has been held up by the slow pace of demining in the region.

Tensions flared in July after Preah Vihear was awarded world heritage status by the UN cultural body UNESCO, angering nationalists in Thailand who still claim ownership of the ancient Khmer temple.

Those tensions turned into a military standoff that saw up to 1,000 Cambodian and Thai troops facing off for six weeks, until both sides agreed to pull back in mid-August.

Talks to discuss withdrawing troops from around Preah Vihear were postponed late last month amid political turmoil in Thailand.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that the temple belongs to Cambodia, but surrounding land remains in dispute.
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