Prime Minister Hun Sen on Saturday accused forestry watchdog Global Witness of lying in a report last week that described illegal logging in Kompong Thom province.
Hun Sen attacked the report, which accused the military of running an illegal logging operation in Santuk district inside a forestry concession controlled by Pheapimex-Fu Chan Cambodia Co Ltd. The report, released Thursday, included photographs of sawmills and recently cut trees and coordinates of logging sites obtained with global positioning technology. “Global Witness has lied before and today they are lying again,” he told reporters at the Council of Ministers, noting that Global Witness had accused the government of killing a villager in December 2002.
The villager, a 29-year-old man from Preah Vihear province, reportedly died of a heart attack after police brandishing electric batons attacked him and other community representatives picketing the Ministry of Agriculture over forest concession management plans. Global Witness and other organizations, including the UN, issued statements, saying the death may have resulted from being struck by an electric baton in the rain.
The government charged Global Witness tried to embarrass it and dissolved its relationship with the organization in April 2003.
On Sunday, Marcus Hardtke of Global Witness said Hun Sen was attacking the organization to deflect attention from its recent report. “Why are people talking about Global Witness?” he said. “Why is nobody talking about illegal sawmills?”
Hun Sen’s complaints come amid criticism of the first report issued last month by Societe Generale de Surveillance, the Forest Administration’s new independent forest monitor. Representatives of NGOs have called the report misleading and the monitoring ineffective.
Peter Jipp, manager of the World Bank loan used to fund SGS and forest crime monitoring, said in an e-mail Thursday that the report was “not what we were expecting,” and that Bank representatives were in “an intensive discussion” with both SGS and the government to improve forest crime monitoring.
A representative from the US Senate Foreign Relations committee was in Cambodia last month investigating forest crime monitoring and the dismissal of Global Witness.