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Young women with white-powdered faces and tight-fitting jeans flit around the karaoke parlors and guesthouses by night, and peek out of the innocuous-looking buildings by day. But the presence of an estimated young women believed to be prostitutes is provoking concern from officials and residents in this former Khmer Rouge stronghold, where the smallest of transgressions was once met with harsh punishment. Prostitution, like corruption, was a social sin that was once non-existent, say former Khmer Rouge here.
Many here blame the flow of prostitutes into Pailin as part of Khmer Rouge communism opening up to a free market. Residents say the prostitution feeds off those who have benefited most from the free market and lax law enforcement. Officials and residents agree that the proliferation of sex workers is destroying the fabric of Pailin society.
Police and residents say that many of the women come from Phnom Penh and Battambang after hearing about the opportunities. The flow of young women looking for work began in late , but has steadily increased until now, residents and police report. The flow of prostitutes to Pailin coincides with a general stream of people coming here for the relatively neutral political atmosphere or the promise of getting rich from the gem trade.
Bou Sarin, a deputy police chief here, last Friday estimated that as many as 40, people now live in the mountainous and forested area, perhaps double the number who lived here two years ago. In September, officials estimated a population of 30, Asked if there are any businessmen making money off prostitution or providing protection to brothels, Bou Sarin said his officers are investigating, but have no results yet.
He claimed that a recent police survey of prostitutes in Pailin scared off more than half of the young women. However, city officials say the number of prostitutes is increasing. And residents say a handful of bordellos that cater to wealthy men exist with police protection. They also note that the relatively opulent discos and gambling houses that have opened up in recent months are a conduit for the sex trade. Officials say there has been no way to test the prostitutes for HIV, the virus that leads to the deadly AIDS syndrome, and they fear that the virus will soon run rampant in the population.