Forestry Report Receives Muted  Donor Reaction

Two weeks before the start of a conference of Cambodia’s foreign aid donors, members of Phnom Penh’s diplomatic corps expressed muted reactions Tuesday to the latest Global Witness report that ac­cuses members of a Cambodian “kleptocratic elite” of massive environmental plunder.

Through an attorney Tuesday, Dy Chouch, a first cousin of Prime Minister Hun Sen, also refuted allegations by Global Witness that he was involved in illegal logging.

In a detailed and at times irreverent narrative, the report released Friday by Global Witness paints a detailed portrait of alleged criminality in Cambodia’s logging industry.

The government announced Sunday it would ban the report and confiscate all copies, calling it a politically motivated attack on Cambo­dia in general and Hun Sen in particular.

Donor representatives on Tues­day declined to discuss whether the report could affect their engagement with Cambodia. At a two-day meeting with Cambodian officials beginning June 19, donors are scheduled to announce pledges of assistance to Cambodia, which top­ped $600 million in 2006.

Both the French and Australian embassies this week declined comment on the Global Witness report. Britain, which provides funding for the London-based en­vironmental organization, said the concerns rais­ed in the report were part of an ongoing dialogue be­tween Cambo­dia and the donor community.

“We welcome the increased at­tention provided by the report on the issues of land and forestry,” a British Embassy spokesman wrote in an e-mail.

“The UK is concerned about the allegations of criminal activity and personal intimidation of communities and human rights defenders that are described in the report,” he added.

A Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity that the Global Witness report had made its point with his own government.

“They definitely got the attention,” the diplomat said.

“If it boils down to which individuals are related to the prime minister, then it’s hard to answer that. But if it’s about illegal logging, of course they’ve got the attention,” he added.

Officials in the diplomat’s home country, which he requested to keep confidential, were studying the report but had not yet formed an opinion on it, he said, adding that the Cambodian government’s decision to ban the report only worked to Global Witness’ advantage.

“It’s good PR for Global Witness, isn’t it? The best thing that can happen is for the government to react this way,” he added.

Son Kaksan, an attorney for Dy Chouch, identified by the Global Witness report as an alleged member of “Cambodia’s most powerful logging syndicate,” denied all ac­cusations concerning his client, whom he described as a land speculator with no involvement in logging.

“Oknha Dy Chouch was not in­volved with the logging,” Son Kak­san said by telephone. “He didn’t have any shares in the logging company,” he said.

Dy Chouch will not take legal ac­tion but is calling for a retraction of the allegations by Global Witness, Son Kaksan added.

Global Witness Director Simon Taylor stood by the group’s allegations Tuesday.

“We have gathered information from numerous sources which shows that Dy Chouch…[has] been involved in logging since the mid-1990s,” Taylor wrote in an e-mail from London.

The US Embassy, which said Monday it shared many of the concerns raised in the Global Witness report, added Tuesday that it did not, however, endorse the report’s specific allegations.

“There have been media reports that the US Embassy ‘supports’ or is ‘sympathetic’ to the Global Wit­ness report. That is incorrect,” em­bassy spokesman Jeff Daigle wrote in an e-mail.

“[T]he embassy is already en­gaged in a dialogue with the government on corruption, land management and illegal logging. These are areas where we would like to see the government do more, and where the government says it is seeking to do more,” he added.

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