British Grant Will Aid Gov’t Fight Against Forest Crimes

The British government has agreed to pay $800,000 for the second phase of a government project to crack down on forest crimes, British Ambassador Stephen Bridges said Thursday.

The money will go to finance the Forest Crimes Monitoring Unit, a Forestry Depart­ment task force charged with tracking forest crimes and collating information in a database to aid law enforcement. The FCMU is part of a three-year program overseen by an independent monitor, London-based environmental watchdog Global Witness.

When the project was set up more than a year ago, it was hailed by observers as an indication of the government’s seriousness about eradicating forest crimes. But a recent dispute between Prime Minister Hun Sen and Global Witness cast doubt on the program’s survival.

Bridges said Britain’s ongoing commitment to FCMU remains strong. He said a delay in the grant, which was due at the start of March, was incidental and not connected to the dispute.

January’s controversy erupted when Global Witness released a damning forest crimes report to the press without first consulting the government. The report, issued two days before Cambodia’s annual donors meeting, prompted Hun Sen to threaten the group with expulsion.

The government, donors and Global Witness are now working to hammer out a written set of rules restricting how the monitor releases information to the public, said Acting Minister of Agriculture Chan Tong Yves.

(Additional reporting by Van Roeun)

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