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.”