I NTERNATIONAL and local non-government organizations (NGOs) are seeking to distance
themselves from Cambodia's increasingly acrimonious political arena, ahead of communal
and national polls scheduled to be held by the end of 1998.
A June 5 statement from the Committee for Cooperation on Cambodia (CCC) affirmed
the non-partisan nature of the aid organizations and urged the government and political
parties to respect NGO's neutrality.
The declaration comes amid fears that in the lead-up to elections political parties
will turn to the NGO community to advance their own interests.
"This is a pro-active stance in advance of serious problems. Its an attempt
to clear the water before it gets muddy," said CCC executive director, Carole
Garrison noted that it was inevitable that NGOs' activities became enmeshed in
politics given that the country's administration was still deeply linked to political
"[The CCC statement] is trying to put some Teflon on the NGOs that will help
the politicization slip off them as they go about their tasks," explained the
Already NGO workers say they are feeling pressure from parties.
One provincial worker for a large international NGO described an occasion where
the organization had refused to accompany local authorities on a rural aid-giving
mission lest the NGO's contribution be construed as partisan.
"That would have created a positive impression for one political party through
our assistance and we don't want to be associated with that," said the aid worker.
She noted that the problem could become particularly intense in former Khmer Rouge
held areas throughout the northwestern provinces, as Funcinpec and the CPP battle
to woo the loyalty of villagers there.
Chea Vannath, vice president of the Center for Social Development (CSD), a local
NGO, lamented the fact that the need to "balance" political interests sometimes
took priority over development objectives.
As well, Vannath acknowledged that more explicit political pressures had hampered
her organization's work. She recalled a recent CSD Public Forum on social issues
held in Phnom Penh for Kandal province villagers.
"When they returned to the village, the sub-district chief called them into
the office and asked them why they had gone to Phnom Penh and for what purpose,"
"Then he said, 'If something happens [to the villagers] the local authorities
won't be responsible.' That's intimidation," said Vannath.
In addition to overt intimidation and other cases where political parties were
clearly setting up their own NGOs, Vannath said that aid organizations' activities
were often compromised due to their need to work closely with local authorities to
get their job done. As a result, NGOs could be seen as biased toward the local official's
"We have to make it clear that what we're doing is non-partisan," said
the CSD official, and urged other NGOs to resist the political tug.
" We, the organizations, play the game of politicians, instead of doing our
job. We need to play the NGO game," she said.