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NGOs told to choose words carefully

Taing Vida / Khmer Times Share:
Interior Minister Sar Kheng delivers a speech. KT/Mai Vireak

Interior Minister Sar Kheng yesterday during a meet with members of civil society warned attendees to carefully choose their words when referring to the country’s leadership.

Mr Kheng said referring to the government as “Phnom Penh’s regime and Hun Sen’s regime” can be interpreted as derogatory and demeaning, noting that the terms had been used by some political parties during last year’s national election.

“The terms Phnom Penh’s regime or Hun Sen’s regime – as far as I know – mean an illegal group or movement,” he said. “You must not underestimate the turnout rate – more than 83 percent of voters cast their ballots.”

Soeng Sen Karuna, a senior investigator with the rights group Adhoc, yesterday said the terms “Phnom Penh’s regime” and “Hun Sen’s regime” were mostly used in news articles.

“I think it is a matter of misinterpretation. These words had been used by writers to refer to a one party state,” Mr Sen Karuna said. “Adhoc and other civil society groups have never used those words. Those words were used by writers when they were reporting.”

During the meet, Mr Kheng said he has never branded NGOs as backers of the former opposition party who were aiming to topple the government through a colour revolution.

People listen to a speech by Interior Minister Sar Kheng yesterday. KT/Mai Vireak

“I think civil society groups branded themselves as illegal movements when they were caught carrying out their work illegally,” he said. “They caused it and now they’re scared of it.”

Mr Kheng said that the ministry has never blacklisted NGOs, but added that NGO activity is being monitored.

“I have no idea about this blacklist, there was none,” he said. “We don’t have any lists of that sort.”

However, Soeung Saroeun, executive director of the Cooperation Committee of Cambodia, yesterday said though Mr Kheng had never branded NGOs as part of the former opposition movement, other government officials did.

“We have seen earlier documents, produced by some government officials that listed some members of civil society groups as backers of the alleged colour revolution,” Mr Saroeun said. “That’s why we requested him to remove the list and stop accusing us.”

Srey Sotheavy, executive director of Alliance for Conflict Transformation, yesterday said even though the relationship between the government and NGOs has improved since the election, challenges on a local level still need to be addressed.

“There were some officials who were hovering around us when we conducted a community forum,” Ms Sotheavy said. “Cooperation in the sub-national level is not good at all.”

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