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ASEAN forums divide

Cambodian NGOs were drawing battle lines and choosing sides in the run-up to the ASEAN summit, activists said yesterday.

Two separate “ASEAN People’s Forums” are being organised by local NGOs.

The first, from March 28 to 30, is expected to draw more than 2,000 groups.

It is led by Hoy Sochivanny, executive director of Positive Change in Cambodia, who will also represent Cambodia in the “interface dialogue” – a meeting of civil society representatives with ASEAN leaders.

The other, on March 29, was expected to draw about 300 local NGOs and 100 groups from overseas, ASEAN Civil Society Conference and ASEAN People’s Forum steering committee member Thida Khus said.  

The only other time two separate ASEAN NGO forums have been organised was in 2007.

The problem, according to Cambodian Centre for Human Rights president Ou Virak, is that the former is perceived as being organised by a group close to the government.

“This [forum] should be open. We don’t just want a forum, but a proper dialogue with independent NGOs,” he said.

The “interface dialogue” drew attention when Suntaree Saeng-ging, secretary-general of the Thai NGO Co-ordination Committee, told the Bangkok Post that independent ASEAN NGOs had decided to boycott it because the Cambodian government had told ASEAN leaders to nominate their own candidates instead of passing through the ACSC/APF.

The issue reflected differences between groups in Cambodia, too, Thida Khus said.

“It has always been an issue, as some governments recognise those elected [by independent NGOs] and some would not. Cambodia has always refused to accept the elected representative,” she said.

The perception of government siding with groups made regional work for ASEAN NGO actors even more frustrating, she said.

Hoy Sochivanny denied government officials supported her work.

“I am an advocacy woman since 1993 – I advocate with the government.”

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