Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered forestry watchdog Global Witness to be replaced in three months at Tuesday’s meeting between the government and international donors—daylong discussions that were described by foreign participants as “frank.”
Global Witness Director Eva Galabru had hoped the donor meeting might open a “window of opportunity” for her organization’s work in monitoring forestry crime.
However, Global Witness has been reeling since Hun Sen threatened to expel the organization from Cambodia following government claims it exaggerated police violence against villagers who were dispersed while holding a peaceful protest outside the Ministry of Agriculture last month.
“The report of Global Witness was not correct,” Council of Ministers spokesman Penn Thol said after the meeting, which was closed to the media.
“But Prime Minister Hun Sen will not eject Global Witness from the country. They can work as advisers to an environment team or maybe help the Ministry of Environment,” Penn Thol said.
Galabru told The Associated Press Wednesday that “it would be nice if someone would elaborate and tell me what these ‘repeated mistakes’ are.”
Asian Development Bank Country Representative Urooj Malik said the split in the relationship was more a separation than a complete divorce.
“No, no they are not being thrown out at all. They have a new role which is that of advocacy and they will continue to help the government and the donor community…monitor forest crime,” Malik said after the meeting. A replacement organization has not yet been identified, Malik said.
“This is something we will have to work out. But I’m sure we can find a good organization. But [Global Witness] will have a role to play in terms of advocacy. They’ve done a good job,” he said.
Penn Thol said the prime minister asked the donor community to find a new monitoring organization through a bidding process.
“If the next one will work more strong, the more happy our government is. If they come with their own helicopters to monitor the forests, it will be helpful,” he said.
Galabru said in an interview with Radio Australia on Monday that she is “very, very worried that the wrong management decisions are about to be made which will lead to massive deforestation in Cambodia.”
A Cambodia-based conservationist said on Wednesday that an organization chosen to monitor forestry crime will be likely to face the same antagonism from the government and that Global Witness could be just as effective working independently.
“[Global Witness has] done a marvelous job…. Any organization which is empowered to examine the forestry issue will come up against the same problem,” he said. “The will of the government is needed if they want the forest to be here in 100 years.”
European Commission Charge d’Affaires Aldo Dell’Ariccia said on Wednesday the discussions were very frank and very animated.
Some of the benchmarks laid down by the donors on government reform have not been met but others have, Dell’Ariccia said.
However, the fact that Hun Sen was willing to stay all day at the meeting showed his commitment to the process, he said.
Reform benchmarks were not something to be held over the government, but measures of progress, and the donor countries were there to help in areas where progress has not been made, he said.
Dell’Ariccia declined to comment on Global Witness, as the EU was not significantly involved in the forest issue.
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