Global Witness Rebuts Ex-Forestry Monitor Claims

The London-based NGO Global Witness on Friday rebutted public statements by Cambodia’s former forestry monitor Societe Generale de Surveillance, and again accused the Swiss company of failing to report alleged forest crimes.

In Phnom Penh newspapers last month, SGS printed a statement from its vice-president George Bottomley, saying SGS had thoroughly investigated forest crimes and improved government methods of preventing them.

In a June 1 report, Global Wit­ness depicted SGS as complacent while accusing a “kleptocratic” Cam­bodian elite of environmental plunder, claims that officials have denied. SGS replaced Global Witness in 2003 after the outspoken NGO angered Cambodian officials, though SGS’ contract has since expired.

Global Witness’ report, “Cambo­dia’s Family Trees,” claimed that SGS had failed to report logging in and around a 6,200-hectare Tom­ring commune rubber plantation in Kompong Thom province’s San­dan district and an alleged attempt by an agent of the Seng Keang Company to kill an activist protesting against logging in the same area in July 2005.

In his response, Bottomley said that the Tomring area was “not a gazetted forest but a private rubber plantation and so the activities there did not constitute forest crime.” He also described as “a drunken incident” a 2005 event during which Global Witness alleges that a Seng Keang Com­pany operations supervisor tried to shoot an activist in Tomring commune’s Khaos village.

“It was not the SGS mandate to conduct any kind of criminal investigation beyond field verification of the facts,” Bottomley wrote.

Global Witness said Friday that SGS’ response was inadequate. “It appears that whoever drafted the SGS response has either not read Cambodia’s Family Trees or has not understood the points that it makes,” Global Witness said in a statement.

It added that SGS had failed to justify its account that the alleged attack in Khaos village had been a “drunken incident.”

SGS representatives could not be contacted Sunday. However, Agri­culture Minister Chan Sarun said that SGS was a trusted institution. He said that SGS had given the government a re­port in response to Global Wit­ness’ allegations.

He declined comment on the alleged attack at Tomring commune. However, Chhit Boravuth, a lawyer for Seng Keang company, said there had been no such attack.             “The Global Witness report about the attack is not true,” he said.


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