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Ricky Martin tours battered Phucket

Singer speaks on behalf of tsunami orphans

Pop star Ricky Martin toured Thailand’s tsunami-battered Phuket island, visiting with survivors and joining relief agencies in warning that orphans could fall prey to child traffickers.

“I am here to learn and came here to see in which way, shape or form I am going to be able to literally help,” Martin said Thursday. “I came here to talk with the victims. It’s all about the most vulnerable ones, in this case, the kids of Phuket.”

Child welfare groups such as UNICEF have warned that well-established gangs in countries such as Thailand, Indonesia and Sri Lanka could whisk orphaned children into trafficking networks, selling them into forced labor or sexual slavery.

“Unfortunately, a lot of children became orphans and these are perfect prey for the traffickers,” Martin said. “I need to speak on behalf of these children.”

When asked if he would perform in Phuket, the 33-year-old singer replied: “I don’t think this time is about performing. It’s about understanding the needs of this town and creating a plan so that we can really do something, and hopefully next year come back with a great concert.”

Thailand has about 5,300 confirmed deaths and more than 3,000 people still missing from the earthquake-driven tsunami. At least 323 Thai children have lost one or both parents, a Thai official has said.

Martin is visiting Thailand on behalf of the Ricky Martin Foundation’s People for Children project, which helps fight commercial sexual exploitation of children.