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Rudd must stand up for Cambodian NGOs targeted for work on troubled AusAID project

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd should stand up for Cambodian NGOs currently being targeted in a crackdown related to their support for people negatively affected by an AusAID funded project in Cambodia, said Greens Senator and overseas aid spokesperson Lee Rhiannon (‘Land rights acrimony in AusAID Asian project’, The Australian, 6/911).

"The Cambodian government are tightening the screws on NGOs that are advocating on behalf of communities being forcibly resettled as part of a troubled AusAID funded project. AusAID is too involved in this project for Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd to wipe his hands of the responsibility to stand up for those Cambodian NGOs”, said Senator Rhiannon.

“AusAID has given over $20 million to the Cambodian rail project, which has been dogged by controversy since day one. The project is also funded by the Asian Development Bank, which the Australian government contributes money to.

“The Australian government, in response to clear recommendations in the Independent Review of Aid Effectiveness, committed to increase AusAID’s focus on supporting civil society groups in donor countries.

“Now is the time for Mr Rudd to show that the government’s commitments are more than spin and issue a public statement in support of these Cambodian NGOs.

“The Cambodian government has banned NGO Sahmakum Teany Tnaut (STT) from operating for five months and has threatened to restrict the operations of three other Cambodia-based NGOs for their support for communities who have been forced to resettle.

“These Cambodian NGOs have been pivotal in highlighting the shortcomings of the botched resettlement program, including claims of intimidation, threats and forcible removal of families to relocation sites without water or power.

“The lives of at least 4000 families are affected by this project.

“I wrote to Mr Rudd a month ago about the targeting of Cambodian NGOs and requested that he publicly back Cambodian civil society.

“These NGOs must be able to continue their important work or AusAID’s support of the project will become untenable,” said Senator Rhiannon.

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