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Election monitors get warning over law on neutrality

Comfrel head Koul Panha speaks about the recent commune elections during a June meeting of the ‘Situation Room’.
Comfrel head Koul Panha speaks about the recent commune elections during a June meeting of the ‘Situation Room’. Pha Lina

Election monitors get warning over law on neutrality

The Ministry of Interior has issued a warning to election watchdogs Comfrel and Nicfec, ordering them to halt their activities that allegedly violate their NGO obligation of neutrality.

In letters circulated late yesterday and signed by Interior Minister Sar Kheng, the NGOs were informed they had broken Article 24 of the NGO Law, which requires organisations to “maintain their neutrality towards political parties” in Cambodia.

Prime Minister Hun Sen last week accused the group known as the “Situation Room” – an election monitoring coalition of NGOs including Comfrel and Nicfec – of “dirtying the election results” when it suggested the oppressive political climate ahead of last month’s commune poll meant the elections were not completely free and fair.

Following the Prime Minister’s tirade, the Interior Ministry last week confirmed it had placed the Situation Room under investigation on the premise that it was not properly registered with the government, despite it being a temporary coalition of NGOs, not a new entity.

Under the controversial and heavily criticised Law on Associations and NGOs (LANGO), if the groups are “non-compliant” with the ministry’s warning, it can suspend their activities for three months and even remove them from the government’s register.

Nicfec Executive Director Sam Kuntheamy stressed the Situation Room did not take sides during its reporting on the June 4 commune elections.

“We are independent election monitors – we are neutral, we are not biased,” he said.

He said the Situation Room had already wrapped up its activities on June 24, but he feared there may be implications for monitoring the upcoming national poll next year.

“From the warning letter, they don’t want us to form the Situation Room for upcoming elections, that’s what I understand,” he said.

Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak declined to comment yesterday.

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