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NGOs Meet With Opposition Lawmaker Over Controversial Law

Cambodia National Rescue Party Deputy President Kem Sokha greets supporters during a rally in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, file photo.

Representatives of pro-democracy and human rights groups met with the National Assembly’s vice president, opposition lawmaker Kem Sokha, on Wednesday, repeating calls that a controversial law to regulate NGOs be tabled.

The draft NGO law passed the Council of Ministers meeting last week, which means it will now move to the National Assembly for debate.

Critics say the law is not necessary and could be used as a political tool to stifle government dissent.

Following Wednesday’s meeting, Kem Sokha, who is vice president of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, told reporters his party will do its best to make sure concerns from NGOs are heard while the law is debated.

“First, we think, this law is not necessary,” he said, echoing the concerns of other critics. “If possible, it should be delayed. The National Assembly should focus on other necessary laws.”

Groups like the NGO Forum, Transparency Cambodia and the Cambodian Center for Human Rights say the law should have more public consultation before it is debated at the Assembly.

But Kem Sokha said the Rescue Party will work to maintain their input on the Assembly floor.

In response, Chheang Von, a lawmaker for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and a spokesman for the Assembly, said Kem Sokha was speaking out of turn and should have consulted with the Assembly’s standing committee first. “His words are similar to those of [US Ambassador] William Todd’s,” he said. “I wonder why.”

The standing committee will hold a meeting to determine which committee should handle the draft law first, he added.