Gov’t Praises Its Own Anti-Logging Efforts

The government hands itself a passing grade on forestry re­forms in a report prepared for today’s meeting with the inter­national donor community.

Donors will receive the paper today as one of five reports on critical reforms in Cambodia in the areas of public administration, governance, national resource management, fiscal policy and the social sector that were set as “benchmark” reforms for the government in return for the international community’s support, which last year approached    $650 million in loans and grants.

The paper restates the government’s position that Global Wit­ness country director Eva Gala­bru spread misinformation when she alleged in an e-mail to donors and media contacts that police used violence to disperse a crowd of villagers who had gathered Dec 5 at the Department of For­estry to ask about forestry plans for their homelands.

Galabru, the government paper says, did not mention the suffering of those who had to wait in their offices for the protesters to be dispersed before they could exit the building.

“She did not mention details of the detention of more than 100 staff and foreign experts in the Dep­artment for nearly three hours,” the report said. The villagers were cleared from the area at 7 pm, a videotape shows.

The report details the government’s actions to combat illegal logging last year, including the arrest of 12 people, most of them Vietnamese, who were fined about $158,000. Some 2,000 cubic me­ters of wood were confiscated from loggers and 44 saw­mills were dismantled, the report adds.

The report, said one international forestry expert who has seen it, “is full of holes, utter em­bellishments,” and fails to mention some of the most serious problems facing Cambodia’s forests while painting a picture of a progressive government acting against logging,

“It’s not at all self-critical, which is pretty amazing considering the universal perception that reforms in the forestry sector are seriously flawed,” the expert said.

While international donors are expected to voice strong concerns at today’s meeting about the pace of logging reforms, the logging discussion has been scheduled for the end of the day and may be shortened if other talks go too long, said one observer. That’s not all bad, said one of the meeting’s co-chairs.

“I think it’s good that it’s last, otherwise we could talk about it all night,” said Urooj Malik, country representative for the Asian Development Bank. “A lot of reform issues need to be discussed with the government. Everything is a priority.”



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