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PM backtracks on NGO remarks

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Prime Minister Hun Sen gestures during a speech in Phnom Penh, Monday, Nov. 26, 2012. The premier presided over the groundbreaking ceremony for a new flyover being built in Meanchey district. Photograph: Pha Lina/Phnom Penh Post

In an effort to “clarify” earlier remarks he felt had been misunderstood, Prime Minister Hun Sen said yesterday that he welcomed the help NGOs and political parties gave to those affected by land disputes.

“It does not mean that I will avoid responding, but I won’t resolve [a dispute] if it is involved with political issues... I stress this point which maybe I presented unclearly at Preah Vihear, it is my fault because I did not explain everything,” Hun Sen said while speaking at the ground breaking ceremony for a new flyover at Stung Meanchey bridge in Phnom Penh.

On Friday, during a land titling ceremony in Preah Vihear, the premier said he would not resolve land disputes in which NGOs and politicians had become involved.

Explaining that he hoped to pass along the correct message, Hun Sen said yesterday  that political parties and civil society groups were welcome to assist in land disputes if they had a clear goal in mind regarding how to resolve them.

But, he warned, if they intended to politicise the disputes, they would simply grow larger.

“It could be not resolved and [will] become bigger if it is involved with political issues.”

The prime minister emphasised that some NGOs really did intend to resolve citizens’ problems.

“We welcome whatever is not involved with politics, but I say please do not break the door when the door is open,” said Hun Sen, adding that he understood the invaluable role NGOs played in assisting when the authorities are  unable to.

He also warned officials from his own party to avoid connecting any disputes to political issues.

Rights workers said yesterday they were pleased to hear the clarification.

“What the prime minister said today is that he accepts his fault that he misspoke in Preah Vihear province. A democracy absolutely needs civil society groups,” said Adhoc senior investigator Chan Soveth.

Others pointed out that NGOs  step in only because of the failings of relevant authorities.

“If related institutions found a solution for citizens, they wouldn’t look to NGOs, or civil society groups or politicians. But the solution should be transparent, this step can prevent land disputes,” said Am Sam Ath, senior investigator for rights group Licadho.

To contact the reporter on this story: May Titthara at titthara.may@phnompenhpost.com

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