The Cambodian Foreign Ministry announced this morning that it was ordering the US State Department-funded National Democratic Institute to stop its operations and expelling all foreign staff from the Kingdom in the next seven days.
The order comes after the NGO was accused of providing the Cambodia National Rescue Party with an “ill-intended” plan to overthrow the government after materials from a training seminar – and, more recently, unverified correspondence with a senior CNRP official – were leaked on government-aligned Fresh News.
The Foreign Ministry’s statement cites Article 34 of the controversial Law on Associations and NGOs, which allows the ministry to halt the activities of any international group that fails to register or establish a memorandum of understanding. It also cites the tax code, which requires registration within 15 days of beginning operations in the country, failing which, legal action can be initiated.
“Since this law came into effect in August 2015, NDI has operated in Cambodia without being registered with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation until the organization filed a request for registration on June 21 2016,” the statement reads. “Pending the Ministry’s decision on its application, NDI has continued carrying out its activities with total contempt.”
Chum Sounry, spokesman for the ministry, refused to answer questions on the status of NDI’s application from last year, and said the situation had been adequately addressed in the statement.
John Cavanaugh, NDI’s resident programme director, could not be reached for comment.
The action comes as the government has ramped up pressure on local and international NGOs it deems critical – especially those funded by the USAID. The English-language paper The Cambodia Daily, which is owned by an American citizen, is also facing imminent closure for failing to pay a purported $6.3 million tax bill – an amount contested by the media organisation.
The ministry’s statement concludes with a warning that the “competent authorities are geared up” to take similar measures against other foreign NGOs that fail to abide by the Kingdom’s laws.