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NGOs unite in call for rights probe

A COALITION of 21 NGOs yesterday urged the government to investigate an organisation that has been accused of a raft of human rights violations – including rape and unlawful forced eviction – targeting residents of Preah Vihear province’s Choam Ksan district.

According to Adhoc, the government granted the Drugs and AIDS Research and Prevention Organisation a 556-hectare social land concession in
Choam Khsan district in 2007, and the organisation was tasked with supporting economically disadvantaged families in the area.

But at a press conference in Phnom Penh yesterday, the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee accused DARPO of claiming more land than it was entitled to, and of forcing families who have lived there since 2002 to leave their homes in response to “threats, rape and torture”.

The press conference was attended by about 10 representatives of 57 families from two villages in Choam Khsan.

Ny Chakrya, head investigator for the rights group Adhoc, which began monitoring the site in July, said at the press conference that the land claimed by the NGO was being run like an autonomous state.

“For people living there it is like living in a separate area because the area is under the control of the NGO director without cooperation with local authorities,” he said.

Adhoc first raised concerns about DARPO at a press conference last month.

Ny Chakrya said yesterday that Adhoc had on Friday filed a complaint about the group to four government ministries – Interior, Justice, Defence and Land Management – that called for official intervention.

“We urge the government, especially the Ministry of Interior, to investigate the activities of the NGO, which has committed serious human rights violations,” and Adhoc had also called on the government to suspend the NGO’s activities, he said.

DARPO director Pen Loem, a one-star general with the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and an adviser to Senate President Chea Sim, said yesterday that the accusations against him were “too exaggerated to believe”, and said he had the support of the majority of Choam Ksan residents.

“Only several of them arrived at Phnom Penh for the press conference, but my 500 families still support me,” he said.

He denied all accusations levelled against DARPO, and said he had only ever tried to help the residents in the district.

“This is a Techo [Hun Sen] period, so there will be no rape or violence; those allegations were not true,” he said. “My NGO is legal and recognised by the government. There is no reason for me to abuse villagers’ rights. Instead, I helped them to build wells and a school for their children. I spent up to US$1 million to help them.”

He also denied that the NGO operated autonomously. “We have four police officials stationed near the village, so if we did something the police would know,” he said, and the “Ministry of Interior will not believe” the accusations against him.

Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak declined to comment on the allegations against DARPO yesterday, saying he had not yet received the complaint from Adhoc.

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