Gov’t Reviews Presence of Forestry Watchdog

The Council of Ministers has ordered a review of Global Wit­ness’s presence in Cambodia, three years after the environmental organization was fired from its for­estry watchdog position.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry will be responsible for conducting the review, according to a report on the council’s March 18 meeting, which was presided over by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The ministry will “review [the] presence of Global Witness representative in Cambodia,” reads the report, prepared by legal and tax advice firm DFDL.

“Presently this organization still continues to release reports on forest crime in Cambodia,” it continues. “The Royal Cambodian gov­ern­ment and international donors have already chosen SGS to re­place Global Witness.”

It was unclear whether Global Wit­ness, which has had a rocky re­lationship with the government, could be expelled, though Hun Sen has made the threat before.

Foreign Affairs Ministry officials said Thursday they were unaware of the Council of Ministers’ decision, including spokesman Hem Heng, department director Nai Meng Eang and secretaries of state Kao Kim Hourn and Ouch Bo­rith.

Government spokesman Khieu Kan­harith, Hun Sen adviser Om Yen­tieng and representatives from the Council of Ministers and ministries of agriculture and environment could not be reached for com­ment Thursday.

Mike Davis of Global Witness said he was surprised by the or­der, which had also not been communicated to him, but said he was not worried.

“Our presence here isn’t a sec­ret, and we’ve actually been welcomed by a number of government officials,” he said, noting Glo­bal Witness was deemed an im­port­ant presence in the country in the government’s much-hyped Rec­­tangular Strategy.

“Although a new independent monitor has been appointed…the Royal Government welcomes the work in Cambodia of Global Wit­ness, other NGOs and civil society or­ganizations concerned with forest law enforcement,” the strategy, presented to donor countries in December, reads.

Davis said Global Witness will continue to report on forest crimes around the country.

“We don’t see any reason to stop what we’re doing,” he said.

Global Witness was appointed the government’s forest monitor in December 1999. For more than three years, the organization re­ported on forest crimes and criticized the involvement of officials in il­legal logging until Hun Sen fired the organization during a donor meeting on Jan 28, 2003, a month after he accused it of fabricating evidence of police abuse to embarrass the government.

Swiss accounting firm Societe Generale de Surveillance was ap­pointed the government’s new for­es­try monitor in July 2003, but Glo­bal Witness has continued to publish critical reports on forestry crime.

 

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