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British pressured to reverse aid freeze

British pressured to reverse aid freeze

A British Government move to freeze funding of NGO projects in provincial

Cambodia has been abandoned, apparently for the same reason as it was first

made-public relations.

The change of heart came after a concerted public campaign by NGOs against

the earlier decision, and after critical questions in the British Parliament

about it.

In an answer to one Parliamentary question, the Under-Secretary

of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Tony Baldry, told MPs that the

decision had been made after long discussions and consultations with the NGOs

involved.

NGO head offices in Britain responded angrily to the statement,

saying it was untrue as they had been given virtually no warning.

The funding freeze-which one Phnom Penh diplomat had said was designed to

avoid "awkward" questions in Parliament about the safety of Britons in

Cambodia-was condemned by NGO workers in Cambodia and Britain.

On Feb 14, British Ambassador Paul Reddicliffe called a meeting of NGO chiefs

in Phnom Penh to tell them: "I think I have rather better news."

He said the Feb 1 decision to suspend British Overseas Development Agency

(ODA) funding to expatriate NGO workers in the provinces-and to advise them to

return to Phnom Penh for security reasons-had been rescinded.

The earlier decision had been justified on the grounds that it was consistent

with Foreign Office advice to tourists not to travel to Cambodia and, if they

did, not venture outside of Phnom Penh.

Reddicliffe told the post that the policy had been dropped after NGOs "were

able to convince the Foreign Office that they were responsible people" who

should not be subjected to the same blanket advice given to tourists.

While the British Embassy did not accept that provincial Cambodia was

entirely safe, "we have less worries about many areas than a few others"

He said he would raise his concerns with NGOs working in areas considered

particularly unsafe-primarily in northwestern provinces-and would still advise

some to withdraw their foreign staff. But no NGO would have their ODA funding

cut for ignoring the embassy's advice.

"I think that the situation has been resoled," Reddicliffe said. "We've

always been trying to find the best compromise and the present compromise seems

to me be a welcome development."

Senior NGO staff welcomed the new British position, saying they would stick

to their policy of temporarily evacuating staff from provincial areas at times

when their safety was considered in doubt.

The Phnom Penh Post's last issue mistakenly referred to Volunteer Service

Abroad (VSA), instead of Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), as being affected by

the funding freeze.

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