Cambodia shuts down US-funded NGO, expels staff

PHNOM PENH – The Cambodian government announced Wednesday it has ordered the US-based National Democratic Institute closed and its foreign staff to leave the country within seven days.

The action comes less than a week after leaked documents appeared in government-affiliated media apparently showing the NDI, a nonprofit organisation working to support democracy around the world, offered training to the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.

In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs cited the NDI’s failure to register until June 2016 as required by the Law on Associations and Nongovernment Organisations that came into force in August 2015. Pending a ministry decision on its application, the NDI continued to operate “with total contempt”, it said.

The statement warned that the government was prepared to take the same action against any foreign association or nongovernmental organisation that failed to abide by the law.

Since 1992, the NDI has partnered with Cambodians, their elected representatives, political parties and civil society organisations to encourage transparent governance and inclusive political participation.

The recently leaked documents indicated that the NDI conducted a training session for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, prompting government officials to accuse the NDI of political bias against the ruling Cambodian People’s Party headed by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The Cambodian government has also threatened or taken action against a number of US news organisations recently.

The Cambodian Daily reported that “Radio Free Asia and Voice of America have both been accused of not fulfilling tax and registration obligations”.

And the Cambodian Daily itself, which is owned by an American, was recently ordered to pay US$6.3 million in back taxes by Sept 4 or be closed and its assets confiscated.

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