Three foreign staff members of the National Democratic Institute have left the country safely before a one-week deadline.
The Foreign Ministry ordered the NDI’s closure and the expulsion of its foreign staff on the grounds that it was not registered with the government.
The decision to shut down the office of the NDI, which had operated in Cambodia for more than 25 years, was made after information emerged it had helped set out a strategy for the opposition CNRP ahead of next year’s national elections.
General Sok Phal, director-general of the Interior Ministry general immigration department, said the foreign staff left on Tuesday, a day before the deadline.
“Yes, they left peacefully,” he said. Cambodian staff remained in the country, he added.
A property owner who rented office space to the NDI said she had put up a “to rent” sign a few days ago after the NDI staff left.
The Global Witness social activism organisation on Tuesday condemned the government for its crackdown on independent media outlets and the US-funded NDI.
“The ruling party is either closing down organisations it considers a threat to its re-election, or slapping them with crippling tax bills that may choke them out of existence,” said Global Witness campaigner Emma Burnett.
“Without these outlets the Cambodian people will be disproportionately exposed to media that is little more than government propaganda.
“Meanwhile the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party is keeping a low profile for fear of closure as the situation continues to escalate ahead of general elections next year,” she said.
“This latest wave of threats, closures and expulsions are clearly intended to scare the prime minister’s critics into silence.
“We mustn’t underestimate the chilling effect that this will have on freedom of speech across the country.
“Donor governments and countries that trade with or invest in Cambodia should use their influence to try to halt Hun Sen’s crackdown before it escalates further,” Ms Burnett said.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said NGOs which violated the law would face legal action as had the NDI.
He said the closure of the NDI did not mean democracy was not working well in Cambodia, because there were more than 4,000 NGOs registered at the Interior Ministry.
He dismissed the Global Witness comments, which he said did not reflect the situation in Cambodia, where the government had been strengthening the rule of law.
“Global Witness has never said good things about Cambodia. They are always against Cambodia,” Mr Eysan said.