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Forum, government face off

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The government distanced itself from a pre-ASEAN summit peoples’ forum yesterday, saying the event had listed Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong as a speaker despite his having no intention of attending the event.

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As more than 900 packed into the capital’s Lucky Star Hotel for the opening day of the ASEAN Civil Society Conference and ASEAN Peoples’ Forum – one of two forums claiming to give Cambodians a voice ahead of the 10-nation meeting – Koy Kuong, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, took aim at its organisers.

“In the agenda, it is written that there is probably a presence of deputy prime minister, the minister of foreign affairs,” he said. “[Hor Namhong] does not know about this.

“Putting this senior leader on their agenda is to attract more participants. There has been no direct contact . . . and [he] has no time to attend.”

Tentative attendance

Forum steering committee member Thida Khus defended the “tentative” agenda, which states that Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng – who was also not at the forum – had been due to deliver the keynote speech yesterday.

“[We] sent a letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on January 13 asking [Hor Namhong] to participate in organising this forum,” she said. “In our schedule, we have not confirmed [his attendance]. We put TBC [to be confirmed], so it does not mean we have used his name to get more people to attend.”

Critics of a similarly named forum that began at the Chaktokmok Conference Hall on Wednesday and finished yesterday say it was government-backed and funded, and ignored the real issues facing Cambodians.

Organisers have denied government links.

Rights set agenda

During yesterday’s independent forum, regional steering committee members identified land-grabbing and migrant worker conditions as issues that could be raised with ASEAN leaders next week.

Sinapan Samy Dorai, a committee member from Singapore, said the government was “afraid of civil society”.

“The rich and powerful, often connected to the government, abuse the system to maintain their status politically and, of course, [for] money,” he said.

“They are afraid of civil society talking about this and revealing corruption . . . political corruption, police corruption, money corruption. Who is behind the trafficking? Of drugs, women and children? Many of us know.”

ASEAN must address the rights of migrant workers, Sinapan Samy Dorai said.

“None of its 10 countries recognise domestic work under their labour law.”

Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit spokesman Ek Tha declined to comment.

To contact the reporters on this story: Shane Worrell at shane.worrell@phnompenhpost.com
Chhay Channyda at chhay.channyda@phnompenhpost.com

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