The Interior Ministry today announced it had stricken critical environmental NGO Mother Nature from its registry, effective immediately, just days after the group called attention to major discrepancies in silica sand exports to Taiwan.
In a letter disclosing the move, the ministry said the NGO had requested the removal of its own accord in a letter from Mother Nature head Prum Thomacheat on August 23 requesting dissolution of the environmental group.
Deported Mother Nature co-founder Alejandro Davidson-Gonzalez said today that the request had been prompted by constant harassment of two other co-founders, Thomacheat and fellow monk Sok Chantra
Taiwanese trade figures show imports of silica sand dwarfing Cambodia’s recorded exports to the tune of some $30 million. The revelation followed a similar scandal involving exports to Singapore, which recorded some $700 million dollars more in imports than Cambodia recorded in exports, prompting suspicions of impropriety.
Additionally, the two Mother Nature activists who first pointed out the silica sand discrepancies – Dem Kundy and Hun Vannak – were arrested for filming suspected sand-bearing vessels in Koh Kong province, and have since been charged with incitement and making unauthorised recordings.
Today’s letter, signed by Interior Ministry Secretary of State Pol Lim, says that the ministry had decided to remove Mother Nature from the government’s list of NGOs, thereby invalidating any documents given to the group permitting its operations in Cambodia.
“The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior [Sar Kheng] decides to cancel the Mother Nature organisation … from the list of the non-governmental organisations of the Ministry of Interior,” the letter reads.
The NGO has been a thorn in the government’s side with its consistent reporting on sand dredging activities in the country’s southwest. Its outspoken activism also precipitated the deportation of Gonzalez-Davidson in 2015.
Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak today maintained the conservation group had requested the cancellation because “they do not have money”.
Sopheak also claimed that the group was faltering after the deportation of Gonzalez-Davidson and that some people, both within and outside the organisation, were using its name “wrongly from their goal”, though he did not divulge any details.
Gonzalez-Davidson, however, dismissed the claims that funding was behind the dissolution. Thomacheat and Chantra, he said, held a meeting in August and decided to dissolve the NGO following consistent harassment of the duo, which he claimed almost resulted in their arrest last year.
He added that the repeated harassment and arrest of the group’s activists – which he charaterised as “state-sponsored kidnappings” – showed the group would be “sitting ducks” if they continued as a registered NGO.
“So the best strategy is to not continue as a registered NGO but as a movement of concerned citizens,” he said. “All our members are volunteers and we don’t need much funding.”
He said nobody “in their right mind” would believe the ministry and Sopheak’s comments on the group’s lack of funding and support from donors.
“The end result [of this] will be better. And we will be able to focus on other campaigns as well,” he said, adding that “we will continue regardless of this letter”.