Hun Sen Accepts Global Witness’ Apology

After threatening the group with expulsion last month, Prime Minister Hun Sen recently ac­cepted an apology from environment watchdog Global Witness and pledged to maintain his commitment to forestry reform.

“Any baseless accusation or mis­­take committed with regard to this important issue, whether inten­tional or unintentional, is not ac­ceptable,” the premier states in a letter to Global Witness Dir­ector Patrick Alley.

“Forestry reform does not only reflect the firm commitment of the [government] to reforms, but it also reflects our national image and prestige,” the letter states.

Blaming the dispute on “irresponsible officials,” the premier said he would continue to back the group’s activities.

“We hope that the new staff members will uphold their code of conduct and are professional enough to make their valuable contribution to the efforts [in] forestry reform,” he said.

Hun Sen reiterated his commitment at a conference on Thurs­day, saying he would give Global Wit­ness all his support.

“If you want to use a tank, please send for one, and if you want to use a rocket…I give my permission,” Hun Sen said.

Global Witness’ troubles began when it released a report accusing the government of either aiding illegal loggers or being too incompetent to stop them.

Because the report was re­leased to the media before it was presented at the bi-annual donor-government meeting, Hun Sen threatened to expel the group.

Global Witness later sent the premier a formal letter of apology, promising in the future to consult the government before releasing information to the public.

The group also hired a new country director, Eva Galabru, to replace the outgoing director, who left before the furor.

Before the new appointment was made public, Ty Sokhun, di­rec­tor of the Forestry Depart­ment, said Global Witness’ office needed a new kind of leader.

“We need Global Witness with new staff experienced in forestry, not the ones who know how to talk” falsely, he said.

Forestry experts Sunday said they support Galabru, the former director of the human rights group Licadho.

Galabru “understands the politics and the things going on in this country,” said Patrick Lyng, chief technical adviser to the Fo­rest­ry Department’s Forest Crimes Monitoring Unit. “Some­one who understands the politics is more important than someone with expertise in the field.”

Hunter Weiler of Flora and Fauna International agreed.

“I don’t think the top person requires [forestry] expertise,” he said.

Galabru could not be reached for comment.

In another matter, Hun Sen  said he would appeal to the leaders of Thailand, Laos and Viet­nam to step up their efforts in enforcing environment laws.

Without cooperation from the coun­try’s neighbors, efforts to protect animals on the Cambo­dian side will be futile, he said.

“We are human,” the premier said. “We know where our country’s border is. But animals do not know the border.”

(Additional reporting by Van Roeun)


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