PP Post: STT blasts its suspension

Vincent MacIsaac, Phnom Penh Post, Sep. 20, 2011

Land-Rights NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut yesterday called on authorities to “promptly and unconditionally” allow it to return to its work monitoring the rehabilitation of the country’s railways, following a report it said fully vindicated its claim that its August 2 suspension by the Ministry of Interior was politically motivated.

The report by news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur cited a June 17 letter from Minister of Economy and Finance Keat Chhon to Prime Minister Hun Sen in which an unidentified ADB consultant allegedly asked the government to take action against STT and NGO Bridges Across Borders Cambodia because the ADB was under pressure from them over its funding of the railway project.

A June 17 letter from the Ministry of Economy and Finance is referred to in the suspension letter sent to STT from the interior ministry, but the Post could not confirm its contents. STT, however, said yesterday, that the “letter was first shown to us, and parts of it read to us, during a meeting with the Ministry of Interior in July”. A spokesperson for STT said the letter was “also referred to in official meeting minutes from our meeting with the MoI”, but said its request for a copy of it had been denied. When asked to comment Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said STT’s suspension was “old news”. He also said it was not his responsibility to comment on any letter from a different ministry, but added that any NGO that wanted to work in Cambodia had to “act according to Cambodian law”.

STT said “other accusations made against us [by the interior ministry] concerning administrative details are not only incorrect, but were used by the government as pretexts to obfuscate the facts and to silence us”. It said the June letter also “reveals a deeply concerning action by a consultant of one of the most influential institutions in the region”, referring to the ADB.

ADB country director Putu Kamayana, however, said: “ADB does not have a copy of the alleged letter … and since we do not have a copy … was unable to verify the accuracy of a translation [it was given].” “Nonetheless, given the seriousness of the allegations, ADB conducted a thorough internal investigation and did not find any evidence to substantiate inappropriate conduct by an ADB consultant.

The NGOs were unable to provide any more information on the alleged statements by the consultants. We have met them numerous times to discuss these issues,” he said.