By Fred Pleitgen and Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, CNN November 3, 2011 -- Updated 1622 GMT (0022 HKT)
El Arish, Egypt (CNN) -- Bedouin smugglers involved in people trafficking are also believed to be stealing organs from refugees who are unable to pay their demands for large amounts of cash to take them into Israel.
The New Generation Foundation for Human Rights and the EveryOne Group, from Italy, have presented evidence that the bodies of African refugees have been found in the Sinai desert with organs missing.
The Sawarka Bedouin tribe, one of the largest in the Sinai, was named by one Bedouin source as being involved in organ thefts.
A Sawarka leader said he was aware that people trafficking was going on in Sinai and that in some cases refugees were held in bonded labor and tortured. But he added only rogue elements of his tribe were involved.
According to rights groups, refugees -- from places like Ethiopia, Eritrea or Sudan -- are enslaved and tortured and the women raped if they cannot come up with the large sums of money the Bedouin try to extort from them and their families to smuggle them into Israel.
Among Bedouin leaders in the Sinai, no one was willing to speak openly about the organ theft. Tribal leaders said they knew nothing about it or had only heard rumors.
But Hamdy Al-Azazy, head of New Generation Foundation, has photos showing corpses with distinctive scars in the abdominal area. All the photos were taken in a morgue in the Egyptian port town of El Arish after the bodies were brought there.
Al-Azazy says the organs are taken from refugees while they are still alive. "The organs are not useful if they're dead. They drug them first and remove their organs, then leave them to die and dump them in a deep dry well along with hundreds of bodies."
He says he was once taken to the area where the bodies are dumped after the organ removal process. He says he believes corrupt Egyptian doctors are working with the Bedouins, coming to Sinai with mobile hospital units to perform the operations to remove especially corneas, livers and kidneys.
"Mobile clinics using advanced technology come from a private hospital in Cairo to an area in the deserts of Mid-Sinai and conduct physicals on the Africans before they choose those suitable, then they conduct the operation," Al-Azazy said.
CNN showed some of the photos of the dead to Dr. Fakhry Saleh, the former head of Cairo's forensic department and an expert on the illegal organ trade.
"There are two kinds of scars. One is from a postmortem autopsy and one from surgery," Saleh said, pointing to a scar that he says came from an operation that must have been performed shortly before the person died.
According to Saleh, the operation was conducted no more than 48 hours before death, indicated by the freshness of the scars.
Furthermore, all the scars are in the area of the liver and kidney. "They are good stitches in the area of the liver and the kidney," Saleh said while examining the photos on a laptop.
While Saleh says he has never heard of organ theft involving African refugees, he says it seems highly probable that the scars on the bodies come from organ removal.
"They could open you up, take it out and just let you die. The mafia does not care whether you live or die. When they cut you open, it would be very painful, so they would give you anesthesia," Saleh later said.
Saleh has done extensive research on the illegal organ business in Egypt, which preys on poor people. The World Health Organization in a recent report called Egypt a regional hub for the trade.
An investigation headed by Saleh found illegal organ trafficking to be one of the most profitable criminal activities.
"Organ trade is the second most profitable trade behind only weapons trade," he said. "It brings in more money than drug dealing and prostitution."
One Bedouin tribal chief did put CNN in touch with a Bedouin who used to be involved in people smuggling and who was close to the organ theft scheme. The source spoke on condition of anonymity but offered insights into the scheme.
"The doctors deal directly with the Sawarka family, and they buy the organs starting from $20,000," the source said in a phone interview.
He offered further details of the logistics required to keep the organs fresh for the transplant into their new owners' bodies: "The doctors come with some sort of mobile fridge where the organs can be stored for six to eight hours and resold in Cairo or elsewhere."
The source claimed doctors from Cairo are involved in the organ theft, a claim that has proved impossible to verify.
"It's like spare parts for cars," the Bedouin, who later agreed to meet one member of the CNN crew in person, said sarcastically toward the end of the interview.
A second Bedouin, who also refused to be identified, later gave a similar account.
The police general in charge of security in Northern Sinai tells CNN that his forces are aware that organ trafficking and theft are going on in their area of operations but that the authorities have not identified who is behind the schemes.
From CNN's Freedom Project
By Sara Sidner, CNN 10/24/11
SVAY PAK, Cambodia (CNN) -- Svay Pak has a disturbing reputation. The village outside Cambodia's capital of Phnom Penh is known as a place where little girls are openly sold to foreign predators looking for sex.
One of the girls who was sold into the sex trade told CNN that before she could read she was working in a brothel.
"I was about five or six years old," she said. "The first man said to me, 'I want to have sex with you.' At the time I didn't know what to do. No one could help me."
Dozens of girls have had the same experience in her neighborhood.
She says she was approached by a man while playing outside. He asked her to come over and talk to him, and before she knew it she was alone and being asked for sex. Some of the girls were actually sold into the sex trade by their own parents.
Many were housed with other girls her age in what looked like a cell. The room was pink had thick walls and no windows and was about 7 feet long by 7 feet wide. There were several rooms just like it stuffed into a building that had a gate over the front door and bars on the bathroom window. The brothel she lived in specialized in pre-pubescent girls.
The young girls were sought after by the foreign men who came to the area for one reason: They knew they could find young girls for sale.
"At the beginning they talked to me gently but when they raped me, they also beat me up," the former sex slave said, her head bowed and tears rolling from her eyes uncontrollably.
She is now 18 and no longer trapped in a terrible and painful life. Three years ago she found a safe haven after Don Brewster and his wife moved into the neighborhood and began operating a rehabilitation center for child sex slaves.
"I really think it's an evil -- I mean there is no understanding it. The girls, I mean, they're in such pain and suffer so greatly and it is obvious to the man that's raping them," Brewster said.
Brewster says things have changed in Svay Pak in the past several years. It used to be girls who hung out in the open, beckoning from behind barred windows to the men who walked by. Pimps no longer descend on every foreign man who shows up in the neighborhood offering to sell them virgins. While the situation is changing, there is still a nasty underbelly in the area, but travelers have to go looking for it now. The sex trade has gone underground, but it is still there.
"If you just look on the surface you would say that doesn't happen but just yesterday we rescued a 5-year-old girl here in Svay Pak," said Brewster, who works with Agape International Missions.
Now there is a place that provides a secure environment for children to just be children.