The late-night attack on a senior Global Witness official last week comes just one month ahead of a key international donors meeting in which forestry management practices will be tied to international money.
The possibility that the attack will portray the government as unable to police logging interests—or protect those who are supposed to be policing the logging companies—could bring trouble at the donors meeting since illegal logging has been an ongoing concern of the international community.
The lack of accountable forestry practices in the past has lead to the suspension of international aid, notably that of the International Monetary Fund, which in late 1996 suspended or canceled nearly $60 million in loans to Cambodia in protest of illegal logging.
Those concerns were eventually eased by the implementation of forestry management practices, including the government’s decision to name Global Witness its independent forestry monitor.
A three-year, loan program totaling about $60 million was resumed in 1999. It expires at the end of this year, said IMF country director Bob Hageman.
“Under the programs with the IMF, the ban on logging needs to be enforced. They need to find ways to do that,” he said.
Hageman and others said they are waiting for the results of a criminal investigation of the attack, and the revelation of any possible links to logging interests.
“It is premature at this point to link it to the CG meeting,” said Bonaventure Mbida-Essama, country representative for the World Bank. “We are trying to gather information.”
Still, there is “no doubt” the attack and the ensuing investigation will be discussed at the donors meeting, said US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann.
“The Cambodians are not ignorant of the fact that forestry, that the end of illegal logging and sustainable forestry management, have very, very strictly defined conditions for continued aid, especially from the World Bank,” he said.
“The prime minister has pledged that he will bring the situation under control and if he is unable to do so he will resign from the job.”
Wiedemann said he spoke to Foreign Minister Hor Namhong within an hour of learning about the attack on Eva Galabru.
Galabru, a French and Canadian citizen, filed complaints with both embassies and police.
The issue has been taken very seriously in Ottawa, said Canadian Ambassador Normand Mailhot. The embassy sent a letter to Minister of Cabinet Sok An and Mailhot plans to meet with Sok An or another senior government official later this week.
Investigators have not yet linked the attack to Galabru’s work as a forestry monitor, despite widespread feelings that the beating was directly linked to her work. She was not robbed in the late night attack outside her office Tuesday. An e-mail sent to her the following day said only, “Quit.”
Kuoch Chamroeun, deputy governor of Chamkar Mon district, said Monday he received a report Sunday about the attack.
“Now, we are investigating the beating. Now, we could not say what the motivation has been.” he said.
(Additional reporting by Van Roeun)