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EXCLUSIVE: Security Official Defends NGO Law

T. Mohan and Ven Rathavong / Khmer Times Share:
Police confront one of 400 protesters who defied a ban and protested the NGO law in front of the National Assembly yesterday. KT Photo: Fabien Mouret

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – In the noisy debate over the NGO law, the voices of Cambodia’s powerful security forces are rarely heard. They serve in silence.

But this week, Khmer Times was granted an exclusive interview with one man at the very top of Cambodia’s security pyramid. His views are radically opposed to views voiced by opposition politicians, by foreign diplomats, and by demonstrators. (See today’s protest story on page 3).

But in this season of political backlash against the 2013-2014 protests, the views of the security community seem ascendant. In last February’s reshuffle of the ruling party’s Central Committee, the number of members with operational command over security forces was tripled, to 116.

Here is the view from the other side of the police baton.

“The 2013 election was a watershed moment in the need for the law on NGO/CSOs, as mountains of intelligence gathered revealed that some non-governmental and civil society organizations were pawns of hidden hands and would stop at nothing to bring about regime change,” he told this reporter, referring to some of Cambodia’s roughly 3,000 active NGOs.

“We do not want to take direct action, as we do not have the law for this,” the high ranking security officer said, referring to a bill now under debate at the National Assembly, the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations, or LANGO.

“Thus, the LANGO, when passed will enable us to do that,” he continued. “No country in the whole wide world will allow their elected government, perfect or otherwise, to be toppled through undemocratic means in the ironic name of “democracy.”

Opposition leaders have warned that the vague language of the bill opens the door for harsher action against NGOs than simply requiring the filing of financial statements.

Some NGOS = Political Enemies?

In the interview, the official expressed hostility toward nongovernmental organizations that support policies at odds with the government.

“I have no doubt many of these organizations  have an agenda which is different from the government’s – some donors, especially bilateral aid agencies of developed countries, also have an agenda,” said the official, whose dossier is internal security, not foreign relations.  

“But are we saying that anyone spending tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars  (that we know of) a year in a high-decibel media and public campaign can pull down the economy and demolish the security of the country?” he asked.

Obscure Video Influences Views

The security officer made frequent references to a video little known by the general public: “12 Steps to Regime Change.”

In its original form, this title first appeared in 2003 in a liberal American magazine, Utne Reader, as: “12 Steps to Regime Change: How to Beat Bush in 2004.”

Last November, a shortened version of this title reappeared attached to a virulently anti-Western, anti-NGO attack video posted on www.ziondaily.com. This Chinese language website took strong positions against Hong Kong’s pro-democracy “Umbrella” protests.

The “12 steps” to regime change seems to be written by someone devoted to regime preservation.

“Dispatch CIA, MI6 and other intelligence officers as students, tourists, volunteers, businessmen, and reporters to the target country,” starts Step 1.

“Attract local traitors and especially academics, politicians, reporters, soldiers, etc., through bribery, or threaten those who have some stain in their life,” reads Step 3.

The next step: “If the target country has labor unions, bribe them.”

Apparently, this video has been viewed by top echelons of Cambodia’s security apparatus.

“Our security apparatus was aware that this 12 Steps video had something to do with the aftermath of the 2013 general election,” the Cambodian security official said. 

“Total anarchy in 2013 was only averted when the analysts, strategists and implementers of these 12 Steps realized that the RCAF was solidly behind the Prime Minister, and so were the police and a large segment of the civil service,” he said, referring to the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.

Opposition Retort

In retort, opposition leaders say there is more to society dissatisfaction than an imported video.

“CNRP has principled strategies, and had organized a clear system in the party to get power,” said Yem Ponhearith, spokesman for the Cambodia National Rescue Party. “I also lived in the Pol Pot regime, and they [Khmer Rouge soldiers] used the words ‘CIA’ or ‘KGB’ to bring people for killing.” 

A ‘color revolution’ is not out of the question for Cambodia, warned Ou Virak, president of the Future Forum Institute on Policy and Research. 

“We could have one, after the result of election in 2018, if there is election fraud,” he said, referring to massive, destabilizing street protests. “If the people are strongly dissatisfied with the government, and there is election fraud, it can happen.”

Reform or Revoluition?

Kem Ley, who is moving to create an opposition party, said Cambodians join the opposition, not because of foreign NGOs, but because of government corruption and the inability of the government to reform and rejuvenate itself.

“Most people want Cambodia to change peacefully,” said Mr. Ley, who worked for many years as a political analyst. “It is already a sign of revolution and changing society that they want to see the leaders change themselves.”

Sok Ey San, spokesman for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, said the government will push forward with the law, confident that the majority of Cambodians support the government.

“Cambodia has thousands of NGOs, but about 10 NGOs protest against the law,” Mr. Ey San said shorly after today’s protest, which drew about 400 people in a city of 2 million inhabitants. 

Warming to the topic of outside interference, he said: “The Cold War is ended, but the theory and action of Cold War are not ended yet. So we have to be careful.”

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