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Monday, September 12, 2011

Groups urge UN to mull funding Cambodia NGO law

By Thin Lei Win

BANGKOK (AlertNet) – Ten international human rights groups have raised concerns in a letter about a draft law in Cambodia which they say will allow the government to shut down aid agencies.

The letter addressed to the heads of 17 U.N. agencies, urged them to press the Cambodian government not to enact the law, which is being considered by the Council of Ministers, and to think about a funding freeze for programmes involving state agencies if the law is adopted in its current form.

Cambodia relies on foreign aid to cover as much as 60 percent of its spending.

"As written, (the law) will allow the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) to intimidate and potentially shut down local, national, and foreign NGOs, associations, and informal groups that criticise the government or government officials," said the letter sent on Friday.

It was signed by groups including Global Witness, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House and Southeast Asian Press Alliance.

Some of the concerns about the proposed law relate to all the red tape it would create and expensive requirements that will make it difficult for grassroots organisations to register as non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

It will also make it more difficult for civil society groups to ensure transparency and accountability in government and donor-funded projects, the letter added.

"This draft law violates core human rights and will severely damage participatory, grassroots development efforts that are so critical for Cambodia's future," Phil Robertson, deputy director at Human Rights Watch Asia Division, said in a statement.

There has been growing tension in the Southeast Asian country between the government and a burgeoning civil society which has become openly critical of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Last month the Phnom Penh Post reported that the Cambodian Foreign Affairs Ministry had warned an umbrella organisation of 88 NGOs over critical letters it sent to international donors funding a $142-million railway project.

The government also suspended a land rights NGO that signed the letter for allegedly inciting villagers to protest against the railway project and summoned another to meet with officials.
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Thaksin to visit Cambodia on Friday : Hun Sen


Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra will visit Cambodia on Friday to attend a conference on the Asian economy - not to negotiate petroleum resources in the countries' overlapping claims area in the Gulf of Thailand as speculated, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said yesterday.

"Thaksin's visit to Cambodia was scheduled before the official visit of newly elected Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who will visit Cambodia on [Thursday]," he said during a graduation ceremony of 4,100 students at the National University of Management in Phnom Penh.

"But the visit of Thaksin on [Friday] until Sept 24 is to join the Asian Economic Future Conference, organised by the Royal Academy of Cambodia, not to talk with Cambodia on oil and gas issues," Hun Sen was quoted as saying by China's state-owned Xinhua news agency.

"Thaksin has no duty to negotiate on oil and gas deals and other issues with Cambodia at all, as it is the duty of the Thai government, not Thaksin," Hun Sen said.

Cambodia and Thailand entered into a memorandum of understanding regarding their overlapping maritime claims on the continental shelf in June 2001, setting out an agreed area to be delimited and an agreed joint development area, but the talks stalled during the administration of former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
No agreement has been reached on an oil and gas deal between Cambodia and Thailand, Hun Sen said.

Deputy Prime Minister Yongyuth Wichaidit said in Parliament yesterday that for the sake of transparency, the government would bring the negotiating framework into the legislature for a reading before making any deal with Cambodia.

Thaksin will give a lecture on Asian Economics on Saturday at the Peace Palace, Hun Sen said. "After that, I will officially greet him at the Peace Palace and we will talk about economic development," he said.

He added that he would play golf with Thaksin on Sunday and that on Sept 24, Cambodian and Thai parliamentarians and high-ranking officials would play football together at Phnom Penh's Olympic Stadium.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra yesterday expressed gratitude to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono over Indonesia's role in facilitating peace efforts between Thailand and Cambodia.


Thailand would fully cooperate with Indonesia, which is handling the matter for Asean, Yingluck said in a meeting with Yudhoyono in Jakarta. Indonesia was the second country the new PM paid an official visit to, to introduce herself to her Asean leaders. Her first port of call was Brunei on Saturday, and she will visit Cambodia on Thursday, then Laos on Friday.

In a joint press statement in Jakarta, Yingluck and Yudhoyono said Thailand and Indonesia would boost cooperation in trade, energy and agriculture.

Indonesia was interested in cooperation on the halal food industry, Yingluck said.

Indonesian trade with Thailand rose by 34 per cent in 2010 to $US12 billion (Bt362 billion), Yudhoyono said.

"We believe that there will still be new opportunities to boost trade cooperation," he said.

Both sides also pledged to step up cooperation in tackling illegal fishing, combating transnational crime, and increasing the number of foreign tourist arrivals.

Yudhoyono said Indonesia would beef up its role in settling the Thai-Cambodian border dispute. Indonesia supported the Thai prime minister's plan to visit Cambodia in coming days, he said.

Indonesia, as the current chair of Asean, planned to dispatch a team of observers to assess the situation and monitor the withdrawal of troops in disputed border areas adjacent to Preah Vihear Temple.

Thailand and Cambodia have been at loggerheads over the temple for a long time but the recent conflict erupted when Phnom Penh pushed for World Heritage listing for Preah Vihear in 2008, a move which Thailand opposed.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that Preah Vihear was situated on Cambodian territory, but Thailand claims ownership of land adjacent to the temple.

Cambodia asked the ICJ in April to interpret the scope and meaning of the 1962 judgement. The court is now in the process of interpreting the 49-year-old ruling. While waiting for this, the court issued a provisional order on July 18, instructing both countries to withdraw troops from a court determined demilitarised zone.

But Thailand and Cambodia have yet to reached an agreement how to comply with the court's instruction.
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