Siem Reap (Updated 12.11.2011). The President and Creator of Together for Cambodia, Lidia Linde, announced today in her Facebook that the court of Siem Reap suspended the case against her for misappropriation that was forwarded by a group of persons who claim the defense of the previous COF Organization. The Criminal Case will not proceed, she announced, although the group can appeal the sentence. ‘For me is a breath of fresh air and peace after 14 months fighting’, said the Spaniard citizen that protects 40 minors in her center where they receive education and professional attention.
She defended the children from abuse and they want to prosecute her for misappropriation
Lidia Linde was a flight attendant that knew Cambodia and the drama of many abandoned and orphan children. They changed her life and for this reason she let Barcelona, her job and the comfort of a normal life in her country to be a volunteer in an orphanage of British origin: COF Organization. But those first months of enthusiasm and giving to a humanitarian cause in a country like Cambodia, had to face another grim reality endured by the Southeast country: the child abuse.
The founder of the work, British Nicholas Griffin, 53, was arrested in October 2010 and sentenced to two years in prison for indecent acts with minors. The Cambodian director of the COF’s orphanages, Chan Reaksmey, was also arrested for administration’s irregularities, but the charges were drop. A teenager of 17 years old is also in jail for child abuse in the same institution.
At the height of the scandal in October 2010, Lidia remained as a flight attendance in the middle of a flight that lost its pilot and copilot. This kind of scandals get always a great press coverage and long audiences with the national and international authorities, especially if the defendant is a foreigner. However, the children remain in a limbo. All feel commiseration for them. All ask justice. But few take the step to guarantee a real safe shelter for them in a way that their education, psychological attention and hope to have a best future would be guaranteed.
Lidia could abandon Cambodia by then. Technically, the organization in which she believed as a body to protect vulnerable children, was then in the eye of the hurricane. But, as she herself mentioned in a public declaration in her Facebook: ‘I continue here, standing and without looking down, in the name of my children, because they are 40 hearts with a quiet throb, under the roof of a home full of hope and future and mom will not abandon them.’
Was COF close or not? A legal mess that opens old wounds
The ghost of COF returns. After the arrest of Griffin, the office of Social Affairs and Juvenile Rehabilitation of Siem Reap Province gave the custody of the children to Lidia in a letter signed on November 25, 2010 by Mr. Phea Sopphat, director of that department. In that letter, Lidia is referred as the president of ‘Together for Cambodia’ and it is approved the custody of 54 minors. She is urged to start the process to ‘change the name of the former organization, ‘Cambodia Orphanage Fund’ to ‘Together for Cambodia’ (the ‘new name’), according to the communicate written in English. It is to say that it was assumed that ‘Together for Cambodia‘ was the continuation of COF, where Lidia was the president.
The official continues saying that while the change is done – the change of name -, Lidia must take the responsibility in the administration of the living, security and protection of the 54 minors.
However, it is not clear if COF was closed or not. At least for Lidia, as she declared to this media, the priority at the moment and now is the protection of the children. If there is an irregularity in the procedure, such irregularity does not come from the Spaniard citizen at all. The Provincial Department itself recommended the creation of the ‘new entity’ and called it ‘the new name of the organization‘, while Lidia, with the advice of benefactors, British and Spaniard authorities and other Cambodian NGOs, created a new shelter for the children known as ‘Together for Cambodia‘.
In August of this year the Ministry of Interior announced the official closure of COF. A month later Mr. Chan Reaksmey, the director of the late organization and a former soldier without previous experience in child protection, leaded a press conference where he declared that the decision of the Ministry was not just and that the officials were impartial. He said that the Ministry did not follow an independent inspection, but it was relaying in the reports of the Provincial authorities alone.
Lidia said to this website that she has received anonymous emails where she is warned that ‘COF will look for justice.’ Currently she faces a demand for misappropriation of COF property before the Siem Reap courts. While the judges accepted to call Lidia to see if she is innocence or not of such charges, her children continue their studies, getting professional attention with the support of specialized organizations in vulnerable children and Lidia, the former Spaniard flight attendant that decided to remain in Cambodia for the good of the children – although the difficulties- remains their inconditional mother. Justice must put the good of the children first and a woman like Lidia should get better a medal of honor for services to our country than a citation to a court.