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Inside Cambodia’s hidden child brothels

Posted by Nuttapon_S On December - 12 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

Phnom Penh, Cambodia (CNN) — Late one night, after dark, we met up with Don Brewster — head of Agape International Missions, an NGO fighting child prostitution — to go behind the scenes at Cambodia’s KTVs: karaoke clubs that are fronts for brothels.

I threw on some jeans and tried to look like a tourist who was up for a kinky kind of tour, with my ersatz “boyfriend”– our cameraman, Scott.

Don drove us first to an out of the way small side street, where there were tiny KTVs operating out in the open like cheap brothels. Girls sat on plastic chairs lining the entrance, all painted up and wearing short skirts, high heels and fake smiles. We walked past a few, stopping to talk for a little while. The girls would stand up, becoming energized and engaged. We crossed the street and approached another one, as if we were sampling the wares at each one.

We walk into a KTV; Scott and Don lead the way into the karaoke rooms. I become less nervous as we walk to the back where an overweight young woman frantically sweeps the kitchen floor, and we are pointed up some cement and metal stairs. We pass hallways full of closed doors, in which I can only imagine the sex acts occur.

We are brought into a low ceilinged, dank room with some disgusting couches and a video screen on one wall. I am overwhelmed with the saturated smell of air freshener that apparently has gone off like an insect fogger in this room — to cover what odor, who knows. I nearly gag and we beat a quick path out of there. We hop back into the car and head off.

Next stop: a famous 5-storied fortress of a KTV with armed guards outside. Don says if we take the elevator up from the basement, we can skip the bar and go straight to the “massage” floor.

On the fifth floor we are immediately led to a giant windowed “fishbowl” where at least 20 girls sit on bleacher to be observed and picked. Scott walks in front of the pane; they respond to his macho energy, rising and preening.

I have my iPhone in hand and itching to take a picture when suddenly things go horribly sideways: A white-clad girl in the bowl suddenly jumps up and starts screaming “She take a picture!!” She runs into the lobby and a grim-faced Mama-san bustles up to us. The girl crowds us and accuses me; more people start to gather. My friends advise me to erase the picture — but I haven’t taken any! I try and stand my ground and keep saying, “I didn’t take a picture.” But I am becoming very nervous and the situation is getting ugly.

We hustle back onto the elevator. We were lucky to get out of there without running into the security guys, because there could have been real trouble. But their behavior absolutely cemented the fact that something illegal, beyond legal-aged prostitution is going on there. They were acting like they had far too much to lose.

We head to another KTV, this one still upscale but less fortress-like than the last. Paintings of the cosmos line the ceiling in the lobby. We were ushered in and led us upstairs to karaoke room where hostesses in satin, beaded formal dresses greet us. The large and comfortable room had a giant screen on one wall and couches lining the other three walls. Colored lights pulse and change on the walls.

An older woman walked in five girls dressed in fairly classy though sexy business suits, for us to take our pick of whom we would like to stay with us. Scott, fully playing the part, roars out in his New Zealand accent, “You have anything younger, fresher?!” The girls scurry out in a hurry.

Then more girls enter. These definitely seem younger. They are also more provocatively dressed; they are wearing very short little black dresses. Don picks one, and so does Scott and the two join us; the karaoke starts in earnest. I must sing with gusto to justify my presence, otherwise what is this white lady doing here?

We sit there and begin to get their life stories. The young girl sitting next to me, the one Scott chose, is extremely pretty. It is impossible to tell how old she is — she claims to be 21, I would believe it if she was 14. She says she doesn’t come from Phnom Penh, and she is working here because her family is very poor and needs the money. Her family doesn’t know what kind of work she is doing, she said. If they find out, they will be angry with her. She has a very pretty smile, but there are moments when I watch her where the smile disappears, and she looks very sad.

She chooses to sing a song from the Karaoke catalog, a popular dance hit in Khmer, which has a video of a singer performing in front of what looks to be an American style high school dance, again like a prom. I am told the song is called “Only One Virginity” (!) and it talks about how a girl is like a flower, and only has the one time where she has most value.

Our young acquaintance sings her heart out, very intently performing if not always tunefully. Afterwards she tells me that she very specifically picked this one out, and that she wishes that she will meet a man that will go to her parents and ask for her hand, respect her. I try to get her to talk about what men expect from her here, but it doesn’t go very far.

I see that Don has been very busy with the girl he invited to stay, showing her a video on his iPhone in which a girl from his center talks about how she was able to leave a KTV and now has a job that she is excited about and is much happier. She was very intrigued by the video and she gave him her cellphone number so the girl from the video could call her and follow up.

I passed his iPhone to our young companion. Thankfully, the hostesses did not seem to mind or care that we were doing this; the whole room was on security cameras poised in the corners but no one came in and stopped us. She watched and listened to the video very intently. Afterwards she said she liked it.

“I know it is hard to trust us, strangers,” I told her. “But I am a mom (and I showed her pictures of my four happy children and me hugging my two daughters) and I wouldn’t want my kids in a situation like this.”

She didn’t give her number, but we told her it was okay, Don’s outreach person would call her friend and we gave her Don’s card. I impressed on her that this was opportunity knocking on her door, and she should answer it: this was her chance for a happier life.

We hugged goodbye, and went back to the cars. I had no idea that I was going to be involved in trying to recruit girls to leave the KTV life and receive the services of Don’s NGO. What a night.

Foreign Ministry readies for talks with Cambodia on ruling

Posted by Nuttapon_S On November - 16 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

THE FOREIGN MINISTRY is fine-tuning its plans for negotiations with Cambodia over the World Court’s judgement on Preah Vihear Temple, while tensions in the border village of Phum Srol have eased.

Deputy permanent secretary Nuttavudh Photisaro said yesterday that the government would deal with Cambodia on the recent ruling by the International Court of Justice through peaceful negotiation.

The clear aim is to protect the national interest and sovereignty with the intention of being a good neighbour of Cambodia, which along with Thailand would become a member of the Asean Economic Community in two years’ time, he said.

“Our stance will not affect national integrity and our reputation in the international community,” Nattavudh told a seminar at Chulalongkorn University.

Thailand is in the process of preparing its position after the ICJ ruled that Cambodia had sovereignty over the whole promontory of Preah Vihear, an ancient Hindu temple on the two countries’ border.

The judgement in effect rejected the unilateral line determined by a Thai cabinet resolution in 1962 to limit the “vicinity” of Preah Vihear.

The court on Monday used the borderline on the so-called Annex I map to define the limits of the promontory but admitted that it was difficult to translate this line into precise locations on the ground. The ICJ therefore urged Thailand and Cambodia to cooperate in complying with the judgement in good faith. The ruling does not permit either party – Thailand or Cambodia – to impose a unilateral solution.

The ICJ judgement has become a political issue. Some have tried to corner the government into confessing that the country has lost territory. They want the government to denounce the World Court ruling.

Thai Ambassador to The Hague Virachai Plasai said that as an official of the Foreign Ministry, he could not say whether Thailand had lost any territory. “What I can say it that we have to talk with Cambodia on the judgement,” he said at the Chulalongkorn seminar.

The government has set up a working group chaired by Foreign Ministry permanent secretary Sihasak Phuanketkeow to deal with the ICJ judgement. The group will call a meeting on Tuesday to study the judgement and offer options to the government.

“Parts of the court judgement are in favour of Thailand, and we have the diplomatic skills to negotiate with Cambodia for mutual benefit,” Sihasak said.

In another development, Interior Minister Charupong Ruangsuwan visited villagers, soldiers and local officials in Si Sa Ket’s Phum Srol village, which is on the border with Cambodia.

People said tensions on the border had eased after the court’s verdict as they were confident that there would be no military clashes.

“As long as the crucial part of the territory in the disputed area of 4.6 square kilometres was not lost, the two countries will be able to negotiate on how to handle the minor part of the Preah Vihear promontory,” Charupong said.

Cambodia garment workers protest turns deadly

Posted by Nuttapon_S On November - 14 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

At least one person killed as police clash with demonstrators demanding better working conditions, rights groups say.

At least one person has been killed and 20 others injured after police in Cambodia clashed with protesting garment workers, according to rights groups.

Tuesday’s protest took place outside the capital, Phnom Penh, where a bystander selling rice was struck by a bullet, the activists said.

Chan Soveth and Am Sam Ath of the rights group Licadho both confirmed a woman had been hit by a bullet.

Six protesters were injured, Chan Soveth said, adding that five Buddhist monks were hurt when police fired tear gas into a Buddhist pagoda where protesters had sought refuge.

Nine other people were hurt, including youths who jumped into the clashes and bystanders.

“The crackdown conducted by police this morning against workers was very cruel and unacceptable,” said Kong Athith, a spokesman for the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union, which organised the protest.

“Workers were unarmed. Why did police use live ammunition to crack down on them?”

Months of protests

Hundreds of workers from the SL Garment Processing (Cambodia) Ltd Factory clashed with hundreds of riot police sent to block a march from the factory to the Phnom Penh residence of Hun Sen, the prime minister, according to rights groups.

Workers from the factory, which makes clothing for Gap, H&M and other international brands, have been protesting for months for better working conditions and pay.

The violence erupted after police sent five officers to negotiate with the protesters, who surrounded and threatened to beat up the policemen, investigator Chan Soveth said.

It was unclear which side started the attacks, which included police firing live bullets and tear gas to rescue their colleagues, and protesters throwing rocks and wielding iron bars and wooden sticks, Chan Soveth said.

National Police officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

The garment industry is Cambodia’s biggest export earner, employing about 500,000 people in more than 500 garment and shoe factories. In 2012, the Southeast Asian country shipped more $4bn worth of products to the United States and Europe.

Pay is low and working conditions are usually uncomfortable. In May, the ceiling of a Cambodian footwear factory collapsed, killing two people and injuring seven.

Govt urges restraint on Preah Vihear ruling

Posted by Nuttapon_S On November - 13 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

Good relations with Cambodia called crucial after world court verdict

The government and military have held back on making definitive comments on the Preah Vihear case, waiting to see what transpires from a meeting with the Cambodian side.

As villagers living along the border cheered and welcomed the restoration of peace after the International Court of Justice’s verdict, heavy discussion took place on Facebook. Some calculated the loss of land to Cambodia after the World Court’s verdict on the promontory of the Hindu temple. A few postings were about the 4.6-square-kilometre disputed area, which will be jointly developed by Thailand and Cambodia.

The court on Monday ruled that the vicinity of the Preah Vihear Temple in accordance with the Annex I map was under the sovereignty of Cambodia. The territory in question does not correspond to the disputed 4.6 square kilometres, and its exact dimensions remain unclear.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Deputy Defence Minister General Yuthasak Sasiprapha pleaded that Thai citizens first think about Thai-Cambodian relations rather than the disadvantages inherent in the verdict, while urging politicians not to use this for political gain.

The Thai-Cambodian joint committee will convene as soon as possible, Yingluck said after the Cabinet meeting yesterday. Fo-reign Minister Surapong Tovicha-kchaikul will hold talks with his Cambodian counterpart and when they are ready, the committee will meet. For now, soldiers are guarding their posts until the joint committee reaches an agreement.

Yingluck brushed aside the question of how long it would take to find out how much land Thailand would lose to Cambodia under the redefined promontory.

Regarding foreign media re-ports that Thailand had lost land to Cambodia, she said it was not a matter of win or lose, but this was a win-win ruling for both countries. “Two neighbours live together without a fight or violence. This should be what all want,” she said.

Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha said Thailand had not lost its land, as the “small area” that the court ruled on was not yet specified. He said that while all were free to comment on the verdict, people should be careful, with the knowledge that one bad word could provoke a war.

“Soldiers are fully deployed to the South and disaster relief … We can’t afford another fight.”

Late on Monday, Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong told reporters in The Hague: “We could say we both win the judgement. By asking the court to interpret the 1962 judgement, Cambodia has only one will – to settle the dispute with Thailand peacefully and to have Thailand stay as a good neighbour. We are close to each other, we cannot stay away,” he said.

Surapong and Yuthasak arrived in Bangkok from the Netherlands yesterday, while Virachai Plasai, Thai ambassador to The Hague, will return today. Led by Yingluck, all of them will testify before Parliament today and take questions from MPs and senators.

Saying the translation and in-terpretation of the verdict was under way, Surapong said it was important that all Thais had a single message, for the peace of both nations. He noted that this understanding would facilitate Thai-land’s stand at the joint committee meeting.

“These [efforts] are to allow both countries to move forward. We must preserve our relations with Cambodia, as our co-existence will be forever. People of both nations are happy with the verdict,” he said.

Professor Chaiwat Khamchoo of Chulalongkorn University’s faculty of political science urged that Thais to maintain unity and not drag the Preah Vihear issue into politics. He said the case went to the court again because it was politicised at home. The university on Friday will host a seminar on the ruling, with Ambassador Virachai as a speaker.

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