Sar Kheng to meet NGOs for second time next week

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Sar Kheng is to have a second meeting with civil society organisations on Thursday or Friday next week. Heng Chivoan

Civil society organisations are set to express their concerns in a second meeting with Minister of Interior Sar Kheng, according to prominent NGO leaders who will attend the gathering.

Sar Kheng’s spokesman Phat Sophanit told The Post on Thursday that the meeting will take place next week.

“It will take place on [January] 17 or 18. It will be a one-day meeting. I’m not sure about the details because I’ve been occupied with the [ministry’s] visit to Vietnam."

“The ministry hasn’t decided on the location of the meeting. And we are not sure how many NGOs will attend,” he said.

Late last year, Sar Kheng said he would meet with civil society groups for the second time as planned, to promote cooperation.

Cambodian Independent Teachers Association (CITA) president Ouk Chhayavy told The Post on Thursday that she will attend the meeting to discuss challenges faced by civil society group over the past years. She said NGOs previously had little room to express their concerns.

“It is very good that the Ministry of Interior meets with civil society groups, but it would be less so if during the meeting the ministry dominates the discussion without any debate on certain issues we raise."

“In past meetings with them, the ministry merely talked about various issues without any real solutions to help improve situations in the country,” she said.

The Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (Central) executive director Moeun Tola told The Post on Thursday that he will raise the issue of restrictions on freedom and discrimination against NGO officials at the grassroots level during the meeting.

“[The challenge is] when we hold public gatherings like when we celebrated Human Right Day on December 10, we were not allowed to march and there were [constant monitoring by] police. We didn’t have full freedom,” he said.

The Alliance for Conflict Transformation (ACT) executive director Srey Sotheavy, who was present during the first meeting, expressed hope for a solution and urged the ministry to genuinely address their concerns at next week’s gathering.

Sotheavy said she was delighted with the ministry’s announcement late last year that NGOs are no longer required to obtain permission before carrying out their activities.

“In real practice, [NGOs] were not given freedom as promised. Higher-ranking officials need to instruct their officials to cooperate with civil society organisations,” she said.

More than 170 NGOs participated in the first meeting presided over by the interior minister in June last year.

According to the ministry’s figures, there were 5,363 registered NGOs as of last year.