The former director of anti-trafficking organization Afesip has refuted claims made by the group’s well-known president, Somaly Mam, that eight girls were killed by the Cambodian army following an incident at the NGO’s Phnom Penh-based refuge center in 2004.
Ms. Mam made the claim on April 3 while speaking to representatives of UN member states, international organizations and the media as part of a panel discussion on human trafficking at UN headquarters in New York.
Recounting a raid on her refuge in 2004, Ms. Mam said: “[T]he army go to the center and take the girls out and eight of them have been killed.”
Pierre Legros, Afesip’s international director at the time of the raid, and the ex-husband of Ms. Mam, said yesterday that no women or girls were killed either during the 2004 incident at the center in Tuol Kok district or in its aftermath.
“No one has been killed in that story,” Mr. Legros said in an interview.
“I never heard anyone has been killed,” he said.
“We became political actors at that time and Somaly became a political actor. So saying that [eight people were killed] at the UN is, I think, a big mistake from her side. She should not say that,” Mr. Legros added.
The killings were alleged to have occurred following Afesip’s high-profile raid in 2004 on the Chai Hour II Hotel in Phnom Penh, where 83 women and girls were taken from the hotel and placed in the organization’s refuge center. The following day, armed men in uniform and relatives of the detained women and girls forced their way into the refuge while the women inside also forced their way out of the compound, claiming they were being held against their will.
While human rights workers and the US State Department roundly condemned the raid on Afesip’s center, no deaths or injuries were reported at that time or afterward.
Ms. Mam said in an email on Saturday that she was traveling to Bangkok for a medical checkup and could not comment on what she had told the UN panel, while Sao Chhoeurth, CEO of Afesip in Cambodia, declined to comment.
The UN human rights office in Phnom Penh said last week that it had no knowledge of the deaths referred to by Ms. Mam.
Senior police officials have described the claims as outlandish.
Mr. Legros, who was married to Ms. Mam until 2008, said that he was speaking out now because he was alarmed by the reports of killings at Afesip, and the much-publicized claims made by his ex-wife that their adopted daughter was kidnapped by human traffickers in 2006 as a result of the Chai Hour Hotel raid.
“She said she has a daughter who has been kidnapped…. She never has been kidnapped by anyone. She escaped from home” with her boyfriend, Mr. Legros said.
“The beginning of the story is not a kidnapping…. No, this is wrong. And secondly, my concern is she is still my daughter, and I would like the privacy of my daughter to be kept private,” said Mr. Legros, adding that he was only contesting claims his daughter had been kidnapped by human traffickers.
In a speech before Ms. Mam addressed the General Assembly on April 3, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke of the hardships that Ms. Mam had faced, including the kidnapping of her daughter, possibly as retaliation for the Chai Hour Hotel raid.
Ms. Mam did not respond yesterday to questions regarding the alleged kidnapping.
Keo Thea, Phnom Penh municipal anti-human trafficking police chief, said that he was unaware of the alleged kidnapping: “We never heard that traffickers kidnapped Somaly Mam’s daughter.”
© 2012 – 2014, The Cambodia Daily. All rights reserved No part of this article may be reproduced in print, electronically, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without written permission.