The Ministry of Interior yesterday ordered the temporary suspension of land rights NGO Equitable Cambodia for allegedly violating its own by-laws and the controversial law regulating NGOs passed in 2015.

In a letter signed yesterday, Interior Minister Sar Kheng ordered NGO Director Eang Vuthy to “temporarily suspend Equitable Cambodia’s activities for thirty working days”.

According to the letter, the organisation violated Article 5 of its own by-laws, as well as Articles 10 and 25 of the Law on Associations and NGOs.

Article 10 sets out that NGOs must submit bank statements to the ministry within 30 days of registration and notify it of any changes to its address, statute, leadership or bank information. Article 25 orders any domestic NGO to “submit a copy of its activity report and of its annual financial report” no later than by the end of the following year. The ministry did not provide any information on the alleged violation of the organisation’s internal rules.

The letter also mentions a complaint by residents of Chum Norb village, in Kampong Speu province’s Trapaing Chor commune, filed earlier this month against the organisation.

Approximately 30 of the protesters travelled to Phnom Penh demanding its closure because it had allegedly “incited the community to separate” in a land dispute case with ruling party Senator Ly Yong Phat’s Phnom Penh Sugar. However, other villagers still represented by the NGO suspected at the time the protesters were hired by the sugar company.

Company representative Andy Seng did not respond to requests for comment as of press time.

The ministry’s letter asks the organisation to submit a bank account statement, its activity and financial reports, as well as its report regarding the dispute with Phnom Penh Sugar, which was the recipient of a 2010 economic land concession.

“In case they don’t follow the notice, the Ministry of Interior will take legal action according to the law,” the minister wrote.Equitable Cambodia could not be reached yesterday.

Chey Beurn, a 60-year-old villager of Trapaing Chor commune and one of the complainants earlier this month, said he was “happy” about the decision. “This NGO deserves what [authorities] have done,” he said. “They went too far, they make the communities hate each other.”

But another resident from the same commune, Phong Sokit, expressed concern about the closure. The organisation has supported him as he tried to solve his dispute with the company.

“I feel very sad that this NGO closed. They taught us about . . . human rights laws,” he said, adding that villagers might protest the closure. “So I feel very regretful, because this NGO has not done any harm to the villagers or the communities.”

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