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NGO law key to security: PM

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090217_03.jpg

Hun Sen warns of terrorist cells via NGOs, while development groups say bill is overkill and would curb efficacy of their work

Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON

Prime Minister Hun Sen shown here in a file photograph.

PRIME Minister Hun Sen on Monday reaffirmed his intent to have a law passed to regulate the country's nearly 2,000 domestic and international nongovernmental organisations.

"Some civil society groups perform illegal activities, but how can we control them if we do not have a law," Hun Sen said during an economic conference in Siem Reap attended by government officials, diplomats and private-sector representatives.

The Interior Ministry drafted the Local Associations and Non-Government Organisations Law in 2006, and it is expected to be passed soon.

Hun Sen said the sources of NGO funds, in particular, needed to be tracked by the government. He referred to a Saudi-funded Islamic group that began operating as an NGO in Cambodia in 2003;  a year later, its director was accused of involvement in a planned bomb plot on the embassies of the United States and Britain in Phnom Penh.

While the Cambodian government has opened its arms to the development community, NGOs, in turn, have refused to disclose their operations, Hun Sen contende.  

"They want us [the government] to have transparency, but the NGOs themselves have no transparency," he said.  

Opposition lawmakers and local rights groups have criticised the government's proposed introduction of tighter regulation for NGOs, saying the restrictions go beyond what is needed for accountability in the NGO sector.

Theary Seng, executive director of the Centre for Social Development, said the law could hinder the independence and vigour of development groups in Cambodia.

Ou Virak, director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said the government was misguided in focusing on a law to monitor NGOs when other major legislation, such as the anti-corruption draft law, has remained idle in the halls of government for years.

He said uncertainty surrounding the particular contours of the draft law, which the government has not disclosed, has many NGOs concerned their work may be curtailed by the government.  "NGOs will be prevented from protecting the interests of the public if the NGO law is passed," he said.

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