PHNOM PENH and WASHINGTON—The United States has strongly condemned the abduction of some 90 sex workers sheltering in Cambodia whom authorities had rescued earlier in the week, calling on the Cambodian government to take urgent steps to find and protect them.
"The United States strongly condemns the (Dec. 8) attack in Phnom Penh on the nongovernmental organization, Agir pour les Femmes En Situation Précaire—Acting for Women in Distressing Situations (AFESIP),” State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli.
...The Cambodian government must take immediate and urgent action to locate, rescue, and protect them.
"This NGO, which receives U.S. and international assistance, provides shelter and support to trafficking victims in Cambodia. Armed assailants abducted all but one of the 91 women and children under AFESIP's care," Ereli said.
"Just one day earlier, Cambodia's Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Department under Gen. Un Sokunthea had rescued 84 of them from a hotel notorious as a brothel for sex-trafficking of children. We are deeply troubled that eight of the hotel's operators who had been arrested Dec. 7 were subsequently released and reportedly participated in the attack on AFESIP," Ereli added.
Washington “is very concerned about the safety and well-being” of the abductees, he said, adding, that “the Cambodian government must take immediate and urgent action to locate, rescue, and protect them."
Some 30 men and women burst into a shelter in Cambodia’s capital and seized the women and girls, whom authorities had rescued earlier this week in the week.
The attackers surrounded the shelter on Wednesday, assaulted its guards, and forced the women into SUVs, Somaly Mam, president of AFESIP, the French group helping abused women. Authorities had rescued the 83 women and girls a day earlier from a brothel in Phnom Penh.
"The girls were very afraid," Somaly Mam told the Cambodia Daily newspaper. “They told me the boss of the hotel has a lot of power and that he will come to take them."
Somaly Mam said two Interior Ministry policemen were on duty during the raid but were too afraid to stop the attack.
Many of the girls were said to be very young. She also said eight police officers from an elite unit were supposed to guard the shelter Tuesday evening but had abandoned their posts.
In its 2003 report on human rights around the world, the State Department noted that prostitution and child sex-trafficking remain a serious problem.
"Although sexual intercourse with a person under the age of 15 is illegal, child prostitution and trafficking in children were common," the report said.
"Domestic and international NGOs reported that violence against women, including domestic violence and rape, was common… Prostitution is prohibited constitutionally; however, there is no specific legislation against working as a prostitute. Trafficking in women for the purpose of prostitution was a serious problem, despite laws against procuring and kidnapping for purposes of sexual exploitation."
"Despite sporadic crackdowns on brothel operators in Phnom Penh, prostitution and trafficking related to it continued to be a problem. A 1997 Commission on Human Rights report to the National Assembly reported 14,725 working prostitutes, and this figure was confirmed by a statistical study during the year, which estimated that there were 18,256 working prostitutes in the country," the report said.
Cambodia is widely regarded as a hub of human-trafficking because its border controls are weak and immigration laws poorly enforced.
Cambodia, China, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, and Myanmar signed an agreement in October in which they pledged to cooperate in the fight against trafficking.