Briefs: Ministry’s Trafficking Stats Fall, Phnom Tamao Gets Official Protection

2 min read
The barbed wire fence surrounding a building complex, called “Jincai” by one worker, where workers are allegedly detained to perpetuate scams, on May 30, 2022. (Danielle Keeton-Olsen/VOD)

Interior Ministry statistics show a 63% drop in human trafficking cases for the first half of this year, even amid mounting reports of trafficking and forced labor of foreign nationals at scam operations in Cambodia.

Interior Minister Sar Kheng cited statistics from the National Committee for Counter Trafficking that showed only 74 cases of trafficking in the first six months of 2022, a reduction of 124 from 198 cases in the same period in 2021.

Kheng, posting on his Facebook account on Friday, said 83 people, including 12 foreigners, had been arrested, while 156 people were rescued — 105 of them women and 60 under 15 years old. A prior focus of counter-trafficking efforts has been the transport of young Cambodian brides to China, often under false pretenses.

However, a recent U.S. trafficking in persons report said there had been a spike in trafficking and forced labor cases within Cambodia. Countries in the region have also spoken about large numbers of their citizens being trapped in scam operations in Cambodia, and are pushing the Cambodian government to assist in rescuing them.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Kheng said officials began inspecting scam compounds in Preah Sihanouk and Kandal on August 18 as part of the ministry’s plan to inspect all locations with foreigners.

Khan Leakhena

Phnom Tamao Protected Status Formalized With Royal Decree

The government formalized Prime Minister Hun Sen’s pledge to give Phnom Tamao protected status with a royal decree, as an agro-industrialist in charge of replanting the destroyed forest said around 50% of the work was now complete.

Around 500 hectares of Phnom Tamao was razed earlier this month after vast tracts of the forest was privatized for development and handed to tycoons Khun Sea and Leng Navatra. Hun Sen canceled the development after public uproar and said the government would give the forest protected status.

King Norodom Sihamoni signed the royal decree, which covers 2,025 hectares of the Phnom Tamao forest. The decree keeps 1,021 hectares as conservation area, 530 hectares that was destroyed would be reforested with luxury wood, and 424 hectares would be for the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center, run jointly by the government and Wildlife Alliance.

Mong Reththy, a local tycoon who said he had permission from Hun Sen to reforest the razed land, posted on Facebook on Sunday that 277 hectares had already been replanted in 12 days and the rest of the plot would take less than two weeks to complete.

Reached on the phone, Retthy said on Monday he did not want to talk about the presence of 1,000 Bodyguard Unit members at Phnom Tamao and only said “everyone was free” to go see the replanting.

On August 16, five VOD journalists and four Khmer Thavrak activists were detained and had their equipment seized for observing the replating operation at Phnom Tamao. Bodyguard Unit officers slapped a journalist and activist. The nine were transferred to the Bati district police station before being released the same evening.

— Keat Soriththeavy

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