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Friday, March 05, 2010

Block Cambodia's military-business ties, donors urged

Global Witness urges Cambodia’s donors to condemn sponsorship of military units by private businesses

Aid donors to Cambodia, including the US, EU, Japan, China and the World Bank, should send a strong message to the government that they will not countenance the bankrolling of Cambodia’s military by private businesses, said Global Witness today.

The call follows the announcement last week by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen of the formation of 42 official partnerships between private businesses and Cambodian military units. The partnerships will “solve the dire situation of the armed forces, police, military police, and their families through a culture of sharing” according to a government memo.

Global Witness is concerned that this policy officially sanctions an arrangement where businesses get military protection in return for financial backing. A number of the companies named as military sponsors already have track records of using the military to protect their business interests. For example, Global Witness’s 2009 report, Country for Sale, described how the Try Pheap Company used armed forces to guard a mine in Stung Treng Province.

Other high-profile Cambodian companies allegedly providing sponsorship include the Mong Reththy Group, the Ly Yong Phat Company, and the Chub Rubber Plantation Company.

“Since the end of Cambodia’s civil war, the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces has operated as a vast organised crime network,” said Gavin Hayman, Campaigns Director at Global Witness. “It is unacceptable for private companies to be financing a military renowned for its corruption and involvement in illegal activities and human rights abuses.”

The arrangement also threatens to undermine the legitimacy of international aid, especially in the case of donors such as the US who are directly funding the military. In 2009 the US spent more than $1 million on military financing, education and training in Cambodia.

“Yet again, Cambodia’s donors are being mocked by the government’s blatant violation of basic governance and transparency standards. The existence of a strong patronage system between the military and private business is not new. But what is different and shocking is that it has become official government policy,” said Hayman. “Donors should send a firm and decisive message that Cambodia’s military exists to protect the people, not the financial assets of a privileged few.”

“This fire-sale of military units represents an appalling breach of governance standards and threatens to undermine the country’s future stability,” said Hayman. “The donor community has collectively poured billions into the restoration of peace and democracy in Cambodia since the fall of the Khmer Rouge. Surely they are not going to stand by and allow this to be undercut by a policy of selling off the armed forces to private business interests? This is tantamount to sanctioning a mercenary force.”



1. Global Witness has worked in Cambodia for over 15 years and published 18 reports on corruption within the management of the country’s natural resources. For examples, see

2. The policy of military-business partnerships was first reported in the Cambodia Daily on Friday 26 February in an article titled Businesses Tie Official Knot With Military. For a full list of companies and military units allegedly involved, contact Global Witness.

3. In the 2009 financial year, the US spent an estimated $1,106,000 on Foreign Military Financing and International Military Education and Training in Cambodia, according to the US Department of State’s Executive Budget Summary: Function 150 & Other International Programs Fiscal Year 2011, accessed at

Global Witness investigates and campaigns to prevent natural resource-related conflict and corruption and associated environmental and human rights abuses.
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Cambodia's proposed NGO law stirs suspicion and concern

Written by: Thin Lei Win

PHNOM PENH (AlertNet) - A proposed law regulating non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Cambodia is raising concerns among advocacy and aid groups that it will be used by the government to restrict their activities in the impoverished Southeast Asian country.

During a ceremony in November to mark 30 years of NGO-government cooperation, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said a law governing the non-profit sector would be next on the agenda after the enactment of an anti-corruption bill.

Hun Sen has talked about enacting an NGO law since 2008, but this was the first time he indicated a time frame -- the anti-corruption bill is headed to the National Assembly and many expect it to be passed soon after.

"NGOs demand that the government shows transparency, but they can't show the same to us," The Phnom Penh Post newspaper quoted Hun Sen as saying.

"We respect the local and international NGOs whose activities serve humanity and help the government of Cambodia ... They will not be threatened by this draft law," he added. "But we believe that some NGOs whose activities seem to serve the opposition party will be afraid of it."

Detractors say the draft law is an attempt to muzzle a burgeoning civil society that has become openly critical of Hun Sen who has been prime minister for the past 25 years.

His ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) has faced growing criticism that it has abused its power by using its parliamentary majority to interfere with the judiciary and restrict political freedom since its last election win in 2007.


Last year, Cambodia passed legislation tightening defamation laws and outlawing public protests by more than 200 people, which rights groups and donors said were moves to stifle criticism of the ruling party.

The United Nation's special rapporteur for human rights, Surya Subedi, has also flagged up concerns about many of Cambodia's institutions, like the courts, saying they were weak.

Against this backdrop, the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (CCC), an umbrella organisation representing more than 100 local and international NGOs, released a statement in December to say the time was not right for an NGO law. It was signed by some 230 NGOs.

"NGOs are also concerned about possible restrictions of activity on grounds of discretionary interpretation and use of the law, particularly given the deterioration of human rights situation in Cambodia since 2008," Borithy Lun, CCC's executive director, told AlertNet.

NGO officials say they have not seen a draft of the law and there have been no discussions, despite formal requests to various government ministries.

"We are not against the law. If we are spending money on behalf of the people of Cambodia, it is right that we should report to them," Sharon Wilkinson, CARE International's Cambodia country director, told AlertNet.

However, she expressed concern that a 2002 draft law was vague on the basis on which the government may refuse to register an NGO whose staff, it said, could face a fine and jail if found to be operating without the necessary registration.


Supporters of the draft law say, in a country of only 15 million people, it would help regulate a sector accommodating more than 3,000 NGOs and associations -- according to some estimates -- working on issues ranging from health, education and infrastructure to environmental protection and governance.

Although Cambodia has been peaceful for over a decade and recently enjoyed several years of economic growth and political stability, 40 percent of its population still live below the poverty line.

According to the latest U.N. human development index, four out of 10 people live below the poverty line of $1.25 a day, more than a third of children under five are underweight, life expectancy at 60.6 years is just above Namibia and Gabon and close to a quarter of the adults are illiterate.

"In Cambodia, it is easy to set up shop or register as an NGO and relatively easy to hire expatriates. It is very open and there is almost no restriction," said Francis Perez, country director of Oxfam in Cambodia.

However, he added: "The concerns of different sectors around the NGO law are legitimate and should be discussed openly."

The plethora of NGOs in Cambodia has raised questions about their own levels of transparency and accountability as well as the hefty salaries earned by expatriate staff compared to Cambodian ones.

However, it is still unclear to what extent a new NGO law would address these issues.

"The need for regulation should not be determined by the amount of NGOs, but by the actual need for further regulation," said CCC, which says self-regulation through the Good Practices Project, a voluntary certification system it has set up, is the best way to ensure NGO transparency.
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Cambodia makes Khmer Rouge bastion tourist site: cabinet

PHNOM PENH (AFP) – Cambodia's government said on Friday it was designating the final Khmer Rouge rebel stronghold a historic site for international and domestic tourists.

The cabinet approved a sub-decree to "preserve and develop" Anlong Veng in northern Cambodia, the final centre for the Khmer Rouge before the movement was defeated in 1998, a statement by the government said.

Anlong Veng will be made a "historic tourism site for national and international guests to visit and understand the last political leadership of the genocidal regime."

Among the anticipated attractions is the spot where late Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot was unceremoniously cremated under a pile of garbage and rubber tires in 1998, after he was purged from the movement.

Other attractions are a munitions warehouse, homes belonging to former Khmer Rouge cadres, and the fenced-off area where Pol Pot spent his last months under house arrest.

Officials have been planning since 2000 to transform Anlong Veng into a showcase of the communist regime?s final days. The tourism ministry has picked out some three dozen sites of interest in the isolated hilly area.

Prime Minister Hun Sen also asked cabinet officials to compile a guidebook to the area and his "win-win policy" to defeat the Khmer Rouge, the statement said.

Tourism is one of the only sources of foreign exchange for impoverished Cambodia, which is recovering from nearly three decades of conflict that ended in 1998.

The kingdom aims to lure three million tourists annually by next year, and in 2009 attracted more than two million foreign visitors.
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