Cambodia's Child Sex Crackdown

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In his 17 years on the Cambodian police force, Keo Thea has seen a lot. But nothing quite prepared the deputy chief of Phnom Penh's anti-human trafficking police for the raid on the home of German national Karl Heinz Henning in August.

At Henning's apartment, tucked away in a leafy neighborhood favored by foreign aid workers in the Cambodian capital, Keo Thea sifted through the country's largest-ever haul of hardcore child pornography. Amongst the bondage gear, handcuffs, whips and battery-operated sex aids, Keo Thea's unit found soft cuddly children's toys. There was also video and photographic cameras, and 18 videotapes, each one hour long, depicting the S&M-style rape and torture of young local children by the tall, gaunt 61-year-old and another German, Thomas Engelhardt, 42, who was arrested a day later. Eight computer hard drives were also bagged for the court. (Karl Heinz Henning's lawyer has denied his client's guilt and the Phnom Penh Municipal Court prosecutor said that Engelhardt told the prosecutor that he had probably taken drugs at the time and didn't know what happened.)

"It was very disturbing," Keo Thea recounted on a recent morning at his small unit's headquarters. A father of two, the 35-year-old deputy police chief, who looks older than his years and stockier than most Cambodians, had just returned from Miami, Florida, where he had given evidence in the case of a U.S. national arrested and deported from Cambodia on child abuse charges in 2004.

"I am sending a message to pedophiles to not come here. I promise you, you will be arrested and sent to jail in Cambodia or you will be extradited and jailed in your own country," he said.

Strong words, and he means it. But to fulfil that promise, Keo Thea has his work cut out. Not only are resources tight to fight child trafficking, especially in the rural provinces, but the courts in Cambodia are notoriously corrupt, and whether they actually carry through with prosecutions is entirely another story.

Cambodia has been a haven for foreign sexual predators since the U.N. brought peace to the war-ravaged country in 1993, and more recently, since its neighbor Thailand started its own crackdown on child sex abuse over the last couple of years. But the arrest of at least eight alleged foreign pedophiles since the beginning of this year may signal that Phnom Penh is finally getting serious about stopping the sexual abuse of children.

The arrests began in February with U.S. national Michael John Koklich, 49, who was apprehended after plowing his motorcycle into a police barricade — and badly injuring Keo Thea's leg in the process — as he tried to escape arrest. Koklich was charged with having sex with children in a Phnom Penh slum and deported to the U.S. He defended himself to reporters by saying that he only had sex with the children for "a very short period."

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