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Equitable Cambodia allowed to reopen

Protesters demonstrate against land rights NGO Equitable Cambodia in Phnom Penh earlier in September 2017.
Protesters demonstrate against land rights NGO Equitable Cambodia in Phnom Penh earlier in September 2017. Photo supplied

Equitable Cambodia allowed to reopen

Land rights organisation Equitable Cambodia (EC) has been allowed to resume its activities after months of uncertainty following an ostensibly 30-day suspension.

Ministry of Interior spokesperson Khieu Sopheak yesterday confirmed that Interior Minister Sar Kheng had told European Union Ambassador George Edgar on Friday that Equitable Cambodia could operate.

“[The NGO’s] report was wrong and we suspended its operation. We suspended it ... We were correct,” he said.

The decision to allow Equitable Cambodia to operate was based on a request by the Ministry of Land Management and the European Union.

“The story is that NGO is the partner in solving the land conflict of sugar cane [companies] ... This [decision] is according to the request of the Ministry of Land Management, who said the conflict is not completely finished,” he said. “They can continue their work. It is due the request of Ministry of Land management and the EU, too.”

The organisation was ordered to suspend its operations for 30 days in September last year following alleged breaches of the Law on Associations and NGOs and its own by-laws, but was then left in limbo. Chhim Kan, the director of the Interior Ministry’s Department of Associations and Political Parties, told The Post in November that the organisation could only resume its activities once it received an official letter from the Ministry of Interior – a letter EC says it still has not received.

Edgar was pleased with the announcement yesterday. “We welcome this assurance,” he said in an email.

In an interview in December, Edgar indicated that the participation of the NGO was vital to make the process surrounding sugar company land disputes credible, saying there had been “long-time pressure” by the EU – a major importer of Cambodian sugar – to take action regarding land disputes, which required a “transparent” process that ensured fair compensation to all those entitled to it.

The disputes in question were between sugar companies and locals displaced by their large economic land concessions.

“The reason we take an interest in this, specifically in Equitable Cambodia’s participation and participation of all the other NGOs in this process, is that we would like to see a process which all stakeholder[s] accept as having been a reasonable one, a satisfactory one,” Edgar said.

EC Project Manager Bun Makara yesterday said he heard the announcement through government-aligned Fresh News. “We are really happy to hear the response from the Ministry of Interior ... We did nothing wrong,” he said.

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