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Anti-Trafficking Task Force, New Law Prove Efforts, Chief Says

For the full Q&A with Hok Lundy in Khmer, click here.

For the past two years, Cambodia has remained on a US watch list of countries not doing enough to combat trafficking for prostitution and labor. Cambodia's top police official defended the government's achievements over the past year in a rare interview Friday, despite lingering doubts from the US State Department.

National Police Chief Gen. Hok Lundy told VOA Khmer in an exclusive interview the police force has very clear orders to prevent human trafficking and has established a task force with branches in every province to combat the crime.

Members of the task force seek to curb trafficking through various methods, he said, including the education of local school children, teaching them to be on guard for human smugglers who might lure them out of their communities.

"I am also on the task force and have deeply assessed this issue," Hok Lundy said. "This is being highly received as a result in preventing human trafficking."

Hok Lundy has been at the center of accusations of involvement in trafficking himself, and rights groups warn that the trade would not be so rampant without the collusion of his own forces.

But the four-star general said Friday police have a renewed dedication to punish officials involved in trafficking, including anyone committing bribery and criminal or official "masterminds."

Hok Lundy said the task force was seeking the return of 1,000 trafficked victims in Taiwan, as well.

Ambassador Mark Lagon, director of the US State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, said recently he has not changed his stance on concerns over corruption in the Cambodian police and courts.

Lagon warned in an interview serious punishments need to take place for Cambodia to prove it is serious about trafficking. "I think US dialogue with the government of Cambodia has been somewhat fruitful," Lagon said.

"I think that there is an understanding that dealing with corruption is very important for fighting human trafficking, but there still remain broad problems of outright complicity of police, judges and immigration officials, from police running brothels, to the judges allowing the hook."

Lt. Gen. Khieu Sopheak, a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said the government has not provided favor to perpetrators.

The government initiates serious punishment against traffickers, he said, firing officials when necessary and sending suspects to the courts. Rights officials warn that these same courts are politicized and corrupt. Khieu Sopheak also said police have maintained good cooperation with the US government and non-governmental agencies, receiving praise for recent efforts.

Asked whether Cambodia might be taken off the State Department's watch list, in the annual "Trafficking in Persons" report, scheduled to be released in June, Khieu Sopheak said the government had not undertaken efforts for a ranking on a list, but "for the children" and the decrease of sex crimes.

If Cambodia is taken off the watch list, he said, "it also is better."

Lagon noted the recent efforts, along with the lack of punishment of top officials.

"On prosecution, we've seen less success. There have been some significant arrests since June of 2007 and some conviction of traffickers by Phnom Penh Municipal Court," he said. "And yet more prosecution and serious sentences are needed."

Um Samath, a rights investigator for Licadho, said Cambodia has recently taken efforts to prevent human trafficking. The police task force and an anti-trafficking law, passed in December, are promising signs, he said.

But human trafficking will not be reduced as long as police who do the work are corrupt and compromise the issue outside the judiciary, he said.

Lagon said the passage of laws is important to deal with all suspects in sex trafficking and forced labor, but passage was less important than implementation.

The government had been promising such a law since 2004, he said, "but it's still not in place."

"When a fully comprehensive law is in place and being implemented, it will be a very good thing for the dignity of victims of human trafficking," he said.