A senior official with the independent forestry monitor Global Witness was beaten and kicked to the ground near her office Tuesday night and then sent a threatening e-mail message the following day in what is being handled by her employer as a case of blatant intimidation from logging interests.
Global Witness country representative Eva Galabru said she was not seriously injured in the 10:30 pm attack that occurred when she stepped out of her car after pulling up to her office.
“It was very quick and nothing’s broken and I’m not really hurt, just sore,” she said.
Galabru said two or three men pushed her down and then kicked her and hit her, possibly with a stick, before running off. They did not steal her purse, phone or digital camera, all of which were on the front seat of her car. The keys to her car were also available and no one made an effort to steal it.
An e-mail sent Wednesday from a Chinese server said only “Quit,” in capital letters, Galabru said.
Staff from the French, Australian, Canadian and US embassies are looking into the threat, said Patrick Lyng, law enforcement expert with the Forest Crime Monitoring and Reporting Unit. Those embassies represent the nationalities of people working with Galabru, who has Canadian and French citizenship.
Lyng said no one on the staff has ever received an anonymous threat by e-mail before.
The family was planning to file a complaint with the district police, said Kek Galabru, Eva Galabru’s mother and the founder of the human rights group Licadho.
Kek Galabru said that aside from the slaying of an elections monitor during the commune council elections, the only other incident of violence against an NGO worker that she knows of occurred in 1993, when a Licadho staff member tried to photograph police who were beating someone.
“From that time until now it’s only been threats, no action,” said Kek Galabru.
Henry Kong, president of the Cambodian Timber Industry Association, said he condemned the violence if it was in fact ordered by someone from within the logging industry.
“It could have been someone from the government department of forestry,” he suggested. “If the attack is related to her work on monitoring forest crime then I would say this act is very condemnable.”
Kong acknowledged that relations between the monitor and the logging industry have been stressful, but blamed Global Witness for what he characterized as a lopsided view of the industry and exaggerated reports of logging abuses.
“Global Witness is only interested to look and report the negative side of the whole issue,” he said. “The timber industry views Global Witness as not being objective. So I think this is the problem facing these two adversaries.”
Ty Sokhun, director of the Department of Forestry and Wildlife, rejected the idea that his staff was somehow involved in the assault.
“I think that idea is foolish,” he said. “I think that my staff are not involved, because we are partners [with Global Witness] we have cooperated with each other.”
The incident comes one week after the Global Witness officials and an adviser to the Forest Crime Monitoring and Reporting Unit discovered freshly cut logs in a Kompong Thom province concession run by the Malaysian company Grand Atlantic Timber International, an apparent violation of the logging moratorium declared by Prime Minister Hun Sen in December.
The fresh logging was only found after a delegation of officials forced their way through a barricade near the edge of the logging company’s concession.
Lyng said he cannot yet be 100 percent sure that the attack was related to Galabru’s work, but said the timing of the e-mail makes it seem unlikely that it was a random event.
“We’re going to do business as usual,” Lyng said. “We are going to be very careful. What people would prefer is for us to quit. But we have no intention to quit.”while soldiers pushed on their car and attempted to turn them back, Lyng said.
“That’s the most difficult time we’ve ever had,” he said.