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Baby traffic witnesses recant


Written by Bill Bainbridge and Lon Nara

KEY witnesses in the baby trafficking case against staff of the

Asian Orphans Association

(AOA) have withdrawn their testimony, according to letters obtained by the Post.

The mother of two allegedly trafficked children, and Chea Kamsan, Tuol Kork's deputy chief of police, have both written to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court withdrawing their testimony from the criminal investigation.

Licadho acting director Naly Pilorge said she was surprised at the letters, particularly that of the deputy police chief.

"To my knowledge the police are obliged to report on any criminal case they are involved in," she said, adding that the investigating judge had to proceed regardless. "This will make it more difficult but there are other elements to the case."

Chea Kamsan could not be contacted for comment.

On September 3 a Phnom Penh woman, Deung Pheap, sought the assistance of human rights NGO Licadho to retrieve two children she claimed to have sold to a Tuol Kork brothel for $150.

Licadho investigators traced the children to a 'clinic' associated with AOA and enlisted police help to retrieve the children. To the surprise of police the subsequent raid netted ten babies and two children and resulted in the arrest of four staff members of the clinic.

When they were released the following day without investigation, observers suspected interference in the case. Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the investigation reopened. The four were subsequently re-charged, but this sudden withdrawal leaves the viability of the criminal case in doubt.

In a letter dated January 29, 2002 deputy commissioner Kamsan wrote that he did not know about baby trafficking.

"I just know that AOA is a legal center and has carried out humanitarian activity," he wrote.

In separate letters to the Phnom Penh Municipal judge and the investigating judge, Deung Pheap wrote that she would like to withdraw her complaint of human trafficking against

Chan Sareun

, the director of the clinic.

"He did not buy or sell my children, but he is the friend of my husband and I pleaded with him to take my two children to keep in an orphanage center because I have HIV," Pheap wrote.

She alleged that Licadho persuaded her to complain and offered to give her money and feed her children if she agreed to pursue the case.

"That's absolutely not true," said Pilorge. "It's up to the client and the victim to decide whether to proceed or not."

After the raid Licadho was granted temporary custody of the 'orphans'. In a separate civil case Licadho first lost custody in the Municipal Court and then regained custody on appeal. The human rights NGO left the children in the care of the orphanage to prevent traumatizing them pending an upcoming Supreme Court appeal by AOA.

Meanwhile the US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) will temporarily lift its ban on adoptions from Cambodia to allow up to 200 "pipeline" adoptions to be completed within the next two months. The September 3 raid sparked off a rash of investigations which culminated in the INS suspending adoptions from Cambodia December 21.

The suspension has affected up to 500 would-be adoptive parents but only the 100 applicants in the final stages of adoption and possibly another well-advanced 100 applicants will be granted visas, according to INS statements.

The INS and the US Embassy in Cambodia have come under heavy pressure from parents and sympathetic members of the US Congress.

Meanwhile, Hollywood couple Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton finalized the adoption of a baby boy from Cambodia March 10 despite Cambodian government assurances that adoptions would not be approved while the INS suspension remained in place.

The Post has learnt the film star couple adopted through controversial Hawaii-based adoption facilitator

Lauryn Galindo

, who is believed to have personally taken the child to Africa where Jolie is working on a film.

However, since the six and half month old boy traveled on a Cambodian passport, the couple and baby will need to return to the US Embassy in Phnom Penh to seek a visa before they can take the baby to the US.

2002 Mar 15