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Gov claims NGOs are recruiting protesters

Phnom Penh Municipal Governor Pa Socheatvong yesterday accused civil society organisations of paying land rights demonstrators to protest against a controversial NGO law that recently passed the National Assembly.

During a speech at a ceremony for the opening of a primary school, Socheatvong insisted that those against the draft Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations (LANGO) are taking advantage of the land rights advocates, and preventing them from getting jobs.

“What do they do for a living besides protesting on the street?

Marching on the street for $5 or $10 per day is these demonstrators’ career,” he said.

“Land activists can do other things to earn a living; can civil society release them, let them find work and stop using them?”

Critics of the LANGO, which the Assembly passed last week, point to parts of the law that give government ministries the right to block an NGO’s registration or deregister existing organisations, among other troubling aspects.

After hearing about the governor’s speech, Boeung Kak community activist Tep Vanny said that Socheatvong was the one taking advantage of the land rights protesters for political gain with his rhetoric.

“We protest [the law] for our own benefit,” Vanny, who denied being paid to protest, said.

“The United Nations and European Union are against this law as well; I think it would be wrong if we did not stand up against it.”

Housing Rights Task Force secretariat director Sia Phearum said that housing activists have come out against the LANGO, because a weakened civil society in Cambodia would hurt their cause.

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