Global Witness Official Accused of Defamation

Several Forestry Department of­ficials have filed a criminal de­famation lawsuit against Global Witness country director Eva Gal­a­bru, department director Ty Sok­hun said Wednesday.

The lawsuit stems from a re­port last year after a Global Wit­ness investigation into logging practices in Siem Reap province.

One logging company was ac­cused in the report of illegally cutting resin trees, according to one foreign forestry expert. He said the report also stated that For­estry Department staff may have been involved in illegal activity.

Ty Sokhun said the report was “not correct.” He said he is not a party to the lawsuit.

“This is not a department issue. It is a private issue between Eva Galabru and [those officials],” Ty Sokhun said. “They are concerned about their reputation.”

Attempts to reach Eva Galabru Wednesday were unsuccessful. Global Witness director Jon Buckrell said the officials are demanding $50,000 in compensation plus a retraction of the information in the report.

Buckrell said Global Witness has issued more than 40 reports on alleged illegal logging since be­coming the government’s independent monitor of the for­estry sector in December 1999.

He said only one re­port has re­sulted in legal action by the government against a logging company.

The environmental watchdog is part of a forest crime monitoring program made up of inspection teams from the Ministry of Ag­­riculture’s Forestry Depart­ment and the Ministry of Envi­ron­ment.

Under the agreement, Global Witness oversees investi­gative work and reports to the Council of Ministers.

A report issued by Global Wit­ness in January 2001 accused gov­ernment forestry officials of ei­ther aiding commercial loggers il­legally harvesting Cambodia’s for­ests or of being too incompetent to stop them. The timing of the re­­port—released ahead of a government-donor meeting—en­raged Prime Minister Hun Sen, who threatened to expel Global Wit­ness. Global Witness officials later apol­ogized.

Since then, Glo­bal Witness officials have been go­ing directly to Department of Fores­try officials with their re­ports “to give them the opportunity to ad­dress issues rather than going to the press,” Buckrell said.

“We don’t have any other ax to grind than to get rid of illegal logging,” he said.

Global Witness officials have repeatedly encountered roadblocks in their investigations from the Forestry Department, he said.

“Something is clearly wrong,” said Buckrell. “It boils down to who [Hun Sen] believes.”


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