Subject: ABC: Claim UN officers customers in East Timor sex slave brothels

On Location Asia Claim UN officers customers in East Timor sex slave brothels

The World Today

The United Nations has been dragged into a controversy in the new nation of East Timor over the trafficking of sex workers. A former UN officer alleges that women are being trafficked from South East Asian countries into East Timor to work as sex slaves and that some UN officers are customers at brothels where these often underage women are made to work. The United Nations East Timor mission denies the allegations.

Transcript:

ELEANOR HALL: The United Nation's involvement in East Timor is seen by supporters as an international intervention success story and one in which Australia still plays a vital role. But recently, the United Nations has been dragged into a controversy in the new nation over the trafficking of sex workers.

A former UN officer alleges that women are being trafficked from South East Asian countries into East Timor to work as sex slaves and that some UN officers are customers at brothels where these often underage women are made to work.

But the United Nations East Timor mission denies the allegations, as Nick McKenzie reports.

NICK MCKENZIE: In April this year, the UN police force, UNPOL, in East Timor, raided an illegal brothel, the Hava Fitness Thai Massage parlour, in Dili.

Twenty-three Thai women who'd been trafficked into the country were found there, some underage. Also present were six UNPOL officers.

The UN claims they were simply receiving massages and had no idea they were in an illegal brothel.

The UN mission in East Timor's Acting Deputy Operations Commissioner Alan King.

ALAN KING: The situation is massage parlours are very popular in South East Asia. They come from a country where massage is quite a legitimate business and in many cases here in East Timor massage parlours exist and they are quite legitimate.

There is no suggestion, as we have found out from our investigation, that they went there for anything other than a legitimate purpose.

NICK MCKENZIE: Mr King also denies there is a major problem with the trafficking of women into East Timor to work as prostitutes, although he says UNPOL officers are working hard to shut down any suspected brothels.

ALAN KING: We don't have exact numbers. We have a few ideas on numbers, but the problem is there is no-one listed as a brothel. There are situations where you find massage parlours, this has been highlighted by a number of raids we've undertaken, which are also offering additional services and it is suggested that these ladies there are actually offering prostitution as that service.

NICK MCKENZIE: But Celhia De Lavarene, a French journalist who was recently employed by the UN in the Balkans to help shut down the illegal sex trade, disagrees.

She says similar to the Balkans, some UNPOL officers and UN staff in East Timor frequent the country's illegal brothels, which are often filled with girls who've been trafficked from nearby countries.

CELHIA DE LAVARENE: They are very young, they are from Thailand and they go there without a passport or if they have a passport they have no visa and I know much well what it means when a young girl is, you know, smuggled into a country without a real visa. It means that they have been trafficked and they are put there for the use, not only of the UN actually, everybody who can pay.

NICK MCKENZIE: The UN's Alan King is aware of the allegations, but denies UNPOL officers are involved. But he says the UN has to rely on the integrity of its officers to ensure they aren't supporting the illegal sex trade.

ALAN KING: We are relying in their integrity as UNPOLs and other internationals working for (inaudible). Their integrity is paramount. They have to be responsible individuals and there are codes of conduct which they have to work and comply with.

If there are offences against the codes of conduct, or alternatively their contingent realises there is a problem, then we can take disciplinary action, some personnel may be repatriated.

CELHIA DE LAVARENE: Timor's government actually complained and sent a letter to the UN in New York, complaining that the UN over there in Dili did not do much and is not doing much, so no I don't think they are doing the right thing.

ELEANOR HALL: Former UN employee Celhia De Lavarene, ending that report from Nick McKenzie.

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