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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Suspended NGO is back

Suspended NGO is back

120102_03
A woman cycles by the new office for NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut yesterday in Phnom Penh.

The controversial suspension of local urban land rights NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut expired yesterday, and the group said it will be business as usual from now on.

STT was suspended from operating for five months in early August after releasing a report in July that was critical of Cambodia’s railway rehabilitation project, which is being funded by the Asia Development Bank and AusAID.

“As far as we are concerned, we are back in business,” STT consultant Hallam Goad told the Post yesterday. “The notice we got from the Ministry of Interior was that there was a five-month suspension, and the five months expires today.”

To mark the occasion, STT announced the location of their new offices yesterday – a clear message to the government that the group would be resuming full operations.

STT program coordinator Ee Sarom told the Post by email that the group would be continuing all their projects into 2012.

“We consider our suspension illegal and have called for it to be voided,” Ee Sarom said. “The Ministry of Interior has been informed of our move as per regulations.”

The Ministry of Interior initially cited the reason for suspending STT as their failure to comply with procedural requirements, including registering the address of the NGO and submitting bylaws and organisational structure documentation.

“We never really saw ourselves as suspended; we have been continuing with our work,” Goad said. “We never received any clarification from the Ministry of Interior about what the suspension meant.”

Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak yesterday said he didn’t know when the suspension of STT would be officially lifted or what procedures were required for the group to resume operations, and directed inquiries to Secretary of State Nuth Sa An, who could not be reached for comment.

In its July report, STT had accused the government of creating a system to downgrade the property value of the homes of those communities that would be affected or evicted as part of the nationwide railway rehabilitation project.

Advocacy group Bridges Across Borders and NGO Forum, which represents 88 NGOs, were also both issued with “warning letters” by the government over their advocacy work with railway residents who would be adversely affected by the government’s revamp.

At the time, STT director Ee Sarom told the Post that officials from the Ministry of Interior had said during meetings that the NGO’s suspension last month was “directly related” to its work with residents affected by the railway project.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan could not be reached for comment yesterday.

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