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US institution expelled from Cambodia amid increasing anti-Western sentiment

US institution expelled from Cambodia amid increasing anti-Western sentiment
Cambodian PM Hun Sen ordered the US-funded National Democratic Institute to pack up and leave the country in the latest move by the government railing against American interests, ahead of what are expected to be hotly contested elections next year.

Cambodia's Foreign Ministry has accused the NDI of operating without registering and stated the foreign staff has seven days to leave the country. Now, Cambodian authorities are "geared up to take the same measures" against other foreign non-governmental organizations, Reuters reported.

The NDI describes its activities as working with political parties, civic groups and governments in order to “establish and strengthen democratic institutions.”

The US embassy in Cambodia’s capital city of Phnom Penh, released a statement titled, “Is Cambodia Committed to Democracy?” in reaction to the new order, according to Reuters.

A Facebook post asking the same question garnered over 280 comments in English and Khmer, the official language of Cambodia.

The move against the NDI follows a threat by Cambodia's government to shut down an American-founded newspaper in the country, called the Cambodian Daily.

The Daily is one of three English language newspapers in the country, and it has been given until September 4 to pay a $6.3 million tax bill, or else it will be shut down, the Guardian reported.

Next year, PM Hun Sen is expected to try and hold on to the position he's held since the 1980s in forthcoming elections. Hun Sen's critics say his party is cracking down on political opposition. Last week, a human rights envoy with the UN said Cambodia “appeared to be approaching a precipice,” according to Reuters.

On Wednesday, US State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the US was very concerned about “the deterioration in Cambodia’s democratic climate” in the past two weeks. She went on to say the government of Hun Sen has moved to curtail press freedom and civil society groups.

Nauert also urged the Cambodian government to conduct their elections in a “free and open environment,”according to the Associated Press.

The decision to shut down the NDI was purportedly made when leaked documents surfaced on the Cambodian government-aligned media website, Fresh News.

The documents claimed to show two US-funded organizations, the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), planning to help the opposition party take down PM Hun Sen's government.

Also, the documents allegedly show collusion with the NDI and opposition leaders, Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha. It outlines how the parties are working together to create what is known as a colour revolution in the country, the Khmer Times reported.

The US Embassy has come out and defended the NDI as an impartial group. They say the NDI has been in Cambodia since 1992 and has worked with major political parties, including Hun Sen's ruling Cambodia People's Party (CPP).

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations Parliamentarians for Human Rights said the NDI was not given an adequate opportunity to respond to the accusations held against it. In the context of rising repression of freedom of expression, they said the order to shut down operations was worrying.

"(It) hints at continued attempts by the ruling party to consolidate power ahead of next year's national elections," Group Chair Charles Santiago said, according to Reuters.

The Overseas Press Club of Cambodia has stated that the Cambodia Daily had a history of running stories that have angered the government, Reuters reported.