- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 5, 2005

STOCKHOLM — Thieves, rapists, kidnappers and scam artists are preying on tsunami survivors and families of victims in Asian refugee camps, hospitals and in the home countries of European tourists hit by the waves.

Reports and warnings have come in from nations as far apart as Britain, Sweden, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Hong Kong, telling of criminals taking advantage of the chaos to rape survivors in Sri Lanka, kidnap orphaned children and plunder the homes of European tourists reported missing.

In stark contrast to a worldwide outpouring of humanitarian aid in response to the Dec. 26 tsunami that has left at least 150,000 dead, a women’s group in Sri Lanka said rapists were attacking homeless survivors.

“We have received reports of incidents of rape, gang rape, molestation and physical abuse of women and girls in the course of unsupervised rescue operations and while resident in temporary shelters,” the Women and Media Collective said.

Save the Children warned that youngsters orphaned by the tsunami were vulnerable to sexual exploitation.

“The experience of earlier catastrophes is that children are especially exposed,” said its Swedish chief, Charlotte Petri Gornitzka.

In Thailand, thieves disguised as police and rescue workers have looted luggage and hotel safes around Khao Lak beach, where the tsunami killed up to 3,000 people.

Sweden sent seven police officers there on Monday to investigate the reported kidnapping of a 12-year-old Swedish boy.

Thai police yesterday said a Western-looking man was suspected to have kidnapped the boy, Kristian Walker, after he was treated by a Thai doctor for an ear injury.

The boy’s brother and sister survived the tragedy and have been taken back to Stockholm by their father, but Kristian and his mother are on the list of missing persons. The children’s American grandfather, Daniel Walker, flew to Thailand this week to seek news about the missing pair.

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who chairs the Organization of Islamic Conference, yesterday expressed concern about reports that traffickers in Indonesia were selling children whose parents were killed in the disaster, Agence France-Presse reported.

The United Nations said it has received reports of adults posing as foster parents and children being shipped from Indonesia to Malaysia for sale.

U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) officers were alarmed when a colleague in Kuala Lumpur received an unsolicited mobile-phone text message that offered to sell children according to buyers’ wishes, said UNICEF spokesman John Budd in Jakarta, Indonesia.

“Three hundred orphans aged 3-10 years from Aceh for adoption. All paperwork will be taken care of. No fee. Please state age and sex of child required,” the message read.

In Sri Lanka, officials said last week that grieving families who lost their children in the tsunami have been taking in orphans from the disaster without approval.

An official from the Department of Child Care and Protection told the Associated Press he had heard of a dozen such cases in Galle and Matara, both on Sri Lanka’s southern coast. Children accounted for nearly a third of Sri Lanka’s more than 30,000 victims.

The Save the Children organization in Sri Lanka said it also had heard of the impromptu adoptions.

“The families which are doing this are trying to deal with their own grief — of having lost their children,” the group’s spokeswoman said. “But they must understand that this is not the way to go about it.”

Sweden is the hardest-hit country outside the tsunami region with more than 2,500 missing and 52 confirmed dead. But it kept their names secret after some homes were targeted by thieves.

“It is, unfortunately, a reality that people who are known to be missing … have had their homes gone through and partly emptied,” State Secretary Lars Danielsson told local radio.

Swedish police could not give details of such break-ins but said similar incidents of looting had occurred after the 1994 sinking of the Estonia ferry, which killed 551 Swedes.

“That is the reason that we are now so careful about distributing the names this time,” a police spokeswoman said.

In neighboring Norway, police were on alert for attempts by criminals to get their names on the list of victims to obtain a new identity or commit insurance fraud.

Kjersti Oppen of the National Crime Investigation Service said the list of missing Norwegians was being checked for names with criminal records or large debts. Similar fraud occurred after the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

In Britain, which has at least 40 of its citizens among the victims, a man admitted to sending hoax e-mails to friends and relatives of people missing saying their loved ones had been confirmed dead. The hoaxer claimed to have information from the “Foreign Office Bureau” in Thailand.

In Hong Kong, where people are chipping in generously to the relief effort, the charity Oxfam warned of a bogus fund-raising e-mail that has been circulating in its name, asking people to send donations to a bank account in Cyprus.

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