Global Witness Seconds Call for Mining Halt

London-based environmental campaigners Global Witness, who an­gered government officials last year by claiming a “kleptocratic elite” was plundering the nation’s forests, said Wednesday the same problem threatened the nation’s oil and mineral resources.

The group also urged Cambo­dia’s aid donors, who are to gather in Phnom Penh next week for an annual aid pledging conference, to insist that Cambodian authorities impose a moratorium on oil and mineral concessions until the government has adopted basic laws for the industries’ management.

The call echoed an NGO statement to donors released Tuesday that also said the government should impose a moratorium on mining concessions, and in which the NGO Forum on Cambodia and Develop­ment and Partnership in Action said authorities had failed to prevent illegal mining and human rights abuses.

In their statement Wednes­day, Global Witness said a forthcoming study of Cambodia’s oil and mineral sector had found a ruling class was again appropriating resources that legally belong to the public.

“Global Witness has surveyed Cambodia’s oil and mining sectors and found that the small number of elite powerbrokers who run the state have sold off potentially valuable concessions to foreign companies in a manner that is non-transparent and highly dubious,” Global Witness claimed.

“So far, at least 60 mineral exploration licenses have been allocated to private companies, many of which are owned or beneficially controlled by members of Cambo­dia’s political and military elite,” the group said.

National Petroleum Authority officials were unavailable for comment on Wednesday while officials at the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy declined to comment.

However, in response to the NGO Forum statement, Minister of Mines Suy Sem said Tuesday that the government had thoroughly satisfied itself that mineral concessions had been honorably awarded and that no moratorium was necessary.

The government is particularly watchful for possible irregularities that can occur when explorers try to sell mining concessions after locating the ore bodies within them, he said.

“We have to check carefully when they are doing business,” he said. “But we have our officials at every company to check.”

Global Witness Campaigns Di­rector Gavin Hayman said donors next week may see their last opportunity to seek proper regulation of the extractive industries in Cam­bodia before revenues start to flow.

“Decisions are being made now about the allocation of the country’s oil and mineral resource wealth which will determine whether the revenue generated moves the country out of poverty or headlong into the resource curse. It’s crunch time for donors,” Hayman said in the statement.

The Cambodian Embassy in Lon­don issued a statement Wednesday criticizing the report, which it de­scribed as “a little curious and in­flammatory, just days before the upcoming Cambodia Development Cooperation Forum.”

“If we are talking about the im­proved governance and transparency of Cambodia’s oil and mining sectors, it may be splitting and coloring Global Witness Campaigns Director Gavin Hayman’ hairs to concentrate only on malicious report designed to start, once again, their villain campaign to discredit the image of Cam­bodia,” the Em­bassy wrote.

“In order to have a balanced re­porting on the issue raised by Global Witness, the Embassy should have an equal number of positive reports to contradict the actions and insinuations made by Global Witness Cam­paigns Director, Gavin Hay­man,” it said.

“It is naive from Global Witness to think Cambodia’s international do­nors do not well aware of their ill-in­tentioned purpose of damaging Cam­­bodia’ past and recent economic de­velopments.”

(Additional reporting by Neou Vannarin)

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