Government officials including Prime Minister Hun Sen made their strongest commitments yet to major donors to end illegal logging, an environmental watchdog reported Thursday from Tokyo’s Consultative Group meeting.
But in a later session, at least one official appeared evasive in responding to donor questions about the crackdown, the London-based Global Witness said.
“If they do what they say they’ll do, then there is real hope for Cambodia’s forests and hopefully the international community will be impressed,” Simon Taylor, a Global Witness director, said in a statement issued Thursday night. “But if they fail to deliver this time then they are going to lose donor support for sure.”
In an opening speech Thursday morning to donors, Hun Sen said that he had taken a “personal interest” in stopping illegal logging and “am charging all my ministers and military officials to pay maximum attention.”
Later that morning, as Hun Sen was handed a copy of a Global Witness report, Taylor recounted by telephone from Tokyo that Hun Sen seemed to ask for three months to put the country’s forests in order. That would correspond to an informal directive Hun Sen made last month to new commander-in-chief Ke Kim Yan to end illegal logging by any means “within three months, at the longest.”
Experts say the key question is if Hun Sen or Ke Kim Yan have the power to stop an illegal logging industry many say is controlled by powerful military and police interests across the nation.
Global Witness said of particular importance Thursday was a statement by Agriculture Secretary of State Chan Tong Yves about plans to cancel more concessions and reactivate a national steering committee on forestry. Twelve contracts covering more than 2 million hectares of land already have been canceled, according to the government.
But Patrick Alley, another Global Witness director, said by telephone Thursday evening from Tokyo that Sok An, the minister of the Council of Ministers, seemed “particularly evasive” later in the day when questioned by donors about how Cambodia will crack down on current, illegally-operating concessions.
“This does not bode well,” Alley said in the Thursday statement. “Furthermore, we know that many of the concessions already canceled were economically unviable, and some were already completely logged out.”
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