Ex-Monitor Still Fears for Cambodia’s Trees Timber

Eva Galabru pressed her hand against a large map of Cambodia tacked to the wall inside the office of Global Witness, the environmental watchdog whose four-year relationship as the country’s forest monitor ended bitterly in April. Her palm covered the patch of green map covering the northwest.

Then she pointed to a forest in Preah Vihear province, and then to other endangered timberland in Siem Reap province. Basically, she said, she worries about the future of any swath of land where trees grow in Cambodia.

Galabru, country representative for Global Witness, said she was especially troubled because the country remains without an independent forest crimes monitor.

There’s concrete evidence that illegal logging has gone on since the group was dismissed, she said. But because it is the rainy season, Global Witness suspects it isn’t seeing the full effect of the its absence.

Government forestry officials still have not selected a new monitoring group, Ty Sokhun, director of the Ministry of Agricul­ture’s Department of Forestry said Wednesday. He said the government has narrowed the field of candidates to eight and plans to make a selection within the month.

Ty Sokhun denied that illegal logging is continuing in the country’s protected forests. “There’s no logging for business. Only lo­cal people cut some trees for use, and some people clear forests for farms,” he said.

The government severed ties with Global Witness on April 22. Their relationship soured last year after a protest at the Forestry Department offices on Norodom Boulevard turned violent. The gov­ernment blamed the London-based group for stirring up anti-government sentiment.

But “it’s not completely over yet,” said Galabru, although she seemed pessimistic about Global Witness’ future in Cambodia.

The likelihood that donor funding will continue flowing to the organization’s Cambodia operation seems dim, she said in an interview on Wednesday.

Galabru wouldn’t say if Global Witness’ Cambodia operation had to slash its staff since the formal relationship ended with the government.

“People don’t know how we work, and we’d like to keep it that way,” she said.

During the group’s stint in Cambodia, accomplishments were made, but more work is needed to protect effectively forests under attack from commercial logging. “There was a tendency to stop the small fish, the farmers out there that take a log or a pole. The middleman and the companies are well-versed in the art of bribery and corruption. So for them, it’s not really a problem,” Galabru said.

She suspects there was probably little the organization could have done to avoid losing its official status. “I’m not surprised” about the government’s dismissal of the agency, she said. “A number of people were unhappy with the few successes we’ve had.”

But to know the impact of the organization’s four years spent looking after Cambodia’s forests is hard to gauge, she said. “If you’re going to do a lesson to learn exercise, I think you’ll need a little more time.”

Keeping Global Witness in Cambodia is “all a question of commitment and courage. We aren’t the only players,” Galabru said.

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