Human rights NGOs working with villagers in Mondolkiri province must now get permission from provincial authorities to do so, officials and activists said Sunday.
The decision to restrict the activities of NGO workers follows the large-scale Phnong ethnic minority protests earlier this year against the controversial Wuzhishan LS Group pine tree plantation, they said.
“NGOs cannot do anything if there is no permission from provincial officials,” said Nha Rang Chan, third deputy provincial governor. “I will not explain the reason but they must follow our orders,” he said.
Em Veasna, an investigator for Human Rights Vigilance of Cambodia, said provincial authorities now regularly deny his organization permission to conduct investigations.
“It is really hard for us to work with the villagers,” he said.
Sam Sarin, the provincial coordinator for the local rights group Adhoc said provincial Second Deputy Governor Sok Run announced the work restrictions at a meeting in mid-June. He said Sok Run had explained that the move was designed to ensure the government could provide protection to NGO workers.
“Since then, police officials always follow me whenever I go out of the office,” Sam Sarin said. “This is intimidation and against the rights and freedom of local human rights activists,” he said.
Em Veasna said the order is designed to ensure that Wuzhishan’s work in the province is not met with further resistance.
Following their demonstrations against Wuzhishan’s encroachment on their ancestral land, several Phnong villages were promised that land would be returned to them.
Hor Phlil, a Phnong commune councilor from Sen Monorom commune in O’Reang district, said that a provincial land committee conducted a survey last week and awarded only 500 meters of land to Pou Raing village—much smaller than the 2 hectares they have been demanding.
He also defended the work of human rights and other NGO workers. “NGOs made us understand the government’s principles and the law,” Hor Phlil said. “I want the government to understand the difficulties affecting my minority…. We need our spirit forests, grave sites and grasslands.”