Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Tuesday that a U.S. charity “must get out of Cambodia,” accusing the organization of making misleading exaggerations about the country’s sex industry during an interview aired on CNN, the New York Times reports.
CNN’s report, Life after trafficking: The girls sold for sex by their mothers, was a follow-up to a 2013 documentary on sex trafficking shot largely in the fishing village of Svay Pak, an infamous center of child prostitution throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s. The report featured interviews with officials at a Christian NGO called Agape International Missions (AIM), and with trafficked women and girls the organization had rescued in Svay Pak.
But soon after it aired — and although it featured the head of AIM saying the local situation had improved — the government accused Agape of overstating the issue. The Prime Minister, reportedly speaking at a commencement ceremony in the capital Phnom Penh, lashed out at the organization, pledging that it must leave the country “by any means,” and that the children under its care would be transferred to government custody.
“My country is poor, but you cannot insult our people,” Hun Sen said. “You bombarded our country, and now you make more trouble. It is fitting that CNN was blasted by President Donald Trump. I would like to say that President Trump is right: U.S. media is very tricky.”
Government officials took particular offense to CNN’s suggestion that some ethnically Khmer mothers had sold their daughters into prostitution. The program’s title — which has since been corrected — initially identified the trafficked girls as Cambodian, though they are actually ethnic Vietnamese, according to the Times.
“This violates the dignity of Cambodian mothers and girls, as culturally Cambodian mothers will never sell their girls for sex at any cost,” said Interior Ministry official Huy Vannak, according to the Times. The official reportedly suggested the organization may have even intentionally deceived the network, thereby violating its in-country operating agreement.
While the area featured in CNN’s report has by all accounts improved markedly since its height as a nexus of the child sex trade, Cambodia is still considered a source and destination for human trafficking. The State Department has declared it a Tier Two country, meaning it “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” but is making significant efforts to improve.