THURSDAY, 16 JULY 2009 14:04 THET SAMBATH AND TRACEY SHELTON
Officials say conflict during the past year has been a boon to the sex industry.
PREAH VIHEAR PROVINCE
THOUGH border tension in the past year has reportedly dealt blows to local commerce and tourism, it has proved a boon to another industry: sex work.
In Choam Ksan district's Sa Em village, located about 20 kilometres from Preah Vihear temple, at least four brothels have cropped up in the past year, with more than 30 prostitutes serving a client base dominated by soldiers.
"They settled here after more soldiers started to be based here," Prak Phy, the Sa Em village chief, said Tuesday. "Our village never had brothels and prostitutes before the tension at the temple."
Kao Long, a Choam Ksan district official and former district governor, said most of the girls were from the capital and from Banteay Meanchey, Battambang, Koh Kong and Siem Reap provinces. He said there were also some Vietnamese girls working in the brothels.
Prak Phy said officials had at first tried to cooperate with local police to "crack down" on the girls when they first started arriving last July, though he said elimination of the brothels had proved "impossible".
He said he finally grew to accept that the brothels were necessary, as "many soldiers need their enjoyment when they are relaxing".
Kao Long said Tuesday that he did not expect law enforcement officials to conduct any brothel raids, despite the fact that prostitution is illegal.
He said it was important for officials "to educate the girls how to use condoms to prevent the spread of diseases". Beyond that, however, he said they were unlikely to get involved.
If there are more girls, please send them here so we can avoid … disputes.
Naly Pilorge, director of the rights group Licadho, said she had not heard of the Sa Em brothels, but she noted that brothels near the border were "difficult to regulate" because few NGOs have a presence there.
She added, "There is an increased risk to women and to minors - if there are any - due to the lack of an NGO presence."
Prak Phy said he had no problems with the village's newest occupants. In fact, he said, he hoped more would relocate there.
"Sometimes, there are disputes among soldiers because there are fewer girls and more men, so the men need to wait for a long time when the girls are busy serving their clients," he said. "If there are more girls, please send them here so we can avoid having these disputes."
He added that the prostitutes could also "reduce expenses" for the soldiers, who would not need to travel so often to see their wives.
"These girls here help make the environment good and help relieve soldiers because most of them are far away from their wives for many months," Prak Phy said.
Doung Phat, who heads a health centre in Sa Em, said Tuesday that some NGO workers had visited the prostitutes at brothels and urged them to use condoms.
Prak Phy said he believed the girls were charging between US$20 and $50 per night.
"Their services cost a lot because there are more men than women and everything is expensive here," he said.
A Sa Em sex worker who only gave her given name, Nary, said she made more money near the border because there were more clients to serve, not because prices were higher.
She said she charged around $25 per night.
"It is not expensive here because I am in a dangerous place, near a battlefield," she said.