A donor representative said Thursday that the Ministry of Agriculture’s Department of Forestry has been informed of the details of a new forestry initiative but that the minister of agriculture has not yet formally approved the plan.
Donor and NGO representatives have described the plan as a broad review of Cambodia’s natural resources and their management.
Those representatives, members of the working group on natural resources, have said they hope to enlist the cooperation of the Council of Ministers and a number of ministries, including Agriculture, Land Management, Defense, Interior and Mines and Energy.
The plan involves bringing in independent consultants with no experience in the country’s often-heated forestry debate to assess what remains of Cambodia’s dwindling forests so proper management decisions can be made.
The donor representative, who requested anonymity, said that a short list of suitable consultants has been submitted to the Forestry Department.
He also said there are efforts to create a new task force of donor and NGO representatives to advise and support the consultants.
Minister of Agriculture Chan Sarun said Thursday that he had received the working group’s terms of reference the previous day. “It is not official yet. Now we are studying it so that we can have unity [on the issue],” he said.
The donor representative said the government has been advised to be flexible about the April 24 deadline for Global Witness—the independent forest monitor that has drawn the ire of Prime Minister Hun Sen and other top officials. He also said he did not expect to get an official government response to that request.
“We will have more discussion with donors [about Global Witness’ deadline],” Chan Sarun said.
Hun Sen has pushed for Global Witness’ removal since the end of last year, after the group accused police of using excessive force on villagers gathered outside the Forestry Department who were trying to look at maps of logging concessions.
Hun Sen then accused Global Witness of duplicity and of using the villagers as “tools.”
But the donor representative said the World Bank’s procedure for choosing a new forest monitor could take months, making the April 24 deadline unrealistic.
He said donors had just recently given the government a long list of possible candidates, including Global Witness, for the job.
Global Witness Director Eva Galabru said Thursday she was unsure about her organization’s future in Cambodia. “It’s quite clear to me the government isn’t terribly eager to have us,” she said.
But despite keeping relatively quiet so far this year, Global Witness has kept up its monitoring efforts. Galabru described illegal logging at present as “quite widespread.”