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Civic Group Calls for Global Probe Into Cambodian Shelter Raid

A civic group in Cambodia is calling for an international investigation into a raid on its shelter, in which attackers abducted 91 women who had been rescued from prostitution. The group believes organized criminals with links to high-ranking Cambodian officials are behind the incident.

Officials of the AFESIP group, a French organization that rescues and rehabilitates victims of sex trafficking, called the midday attack on its shelter in Phnom Penh unprecedented. They welcomed the Cambodian government's announcement of a commission to investigate the incident, but they urged that representatives of the United Nations, international human rights organizations and an internationally recognized police force be included.

The regional director of AFESIP, Pierre Legros, says the police raided a six-storey hotel in Phnom

Penh and found 83 women, some reportedly younger than 18 years, working as prostitutes there.

Mr. Legros says eight people were detained in the raid, including a man identified as a possible owner of the hotel, and the women were taken to the AFESIP shelter. "The police did a good job, but have been stopped by different high-ranking officials who are linked to the Mafia," he said. "So I don't want to blame Cambodia. But I blame the system."

But Mr. Legros says all eight suspects were freed the next morning without explanation. Several hours later, he says, two dozen attackers forced their way into the shelter and took away the 83 rescued women, along with another eight women being housed there. He says he does not know where the women are now.

AFESIP is a French acronym for the name Acting for Women in Distressing Circumstances. Mr. Legros said the group held its news conference in Bangkok because death threats against him and the staff have forced it to close the center temporarily.

"We are under threats," added Mr. Legros. "And I'm sure some people will die for that. I don't know if it's me or others but [the] Mafia and organized crime don't like that [our work], but we have to push."

Mr. Legros says he is gratified by the swift condemnation of the attack from the United States and the European Union. But he said greater pressure must be brought to bear against international syndicates that corrupt government officials in order to traffic with impunity, not only in women and children, but also drugs, timber and other commodities.