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)