Immigration police blocked an official from the outspoken forestry NGO Global Witness from entering the country on Monday afternoon, a Global Witness official said Tuesday.
The man in question, German national Marcus Hardtke, is one of five officials with the NGO who have been barred from entering Cambodia on the orders of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Din Daro, deputy immigration police chief at the Poipet international checkpoint.
Hardtke, a program adviser to the London-based NGO, was prevented from entering at Phnom Penh International Airport, Mike Davis of Global Witness said, adding that Hardtke returned to Bangkok the same day.
Police “had a list of names, he was on it, and he was given no explanation beyond that about why they weren’t going to let him in,” Davis said. “There were no questions about his visa.
“In essence we want to see this overturned as soon as possible and would like an explanation,” he added.
Din Daro identified the four other Global Witness officials not allowed to enter the country as Davis, Patrick Alley, Simon Taylor and Jon Buckrell, and said that Long Visalo, secretary of state for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, signed a letter barring them on June 28.
“The Global Witness men are not permitted any visa or entry into Cambodia,” Din Daro said.
Long Visalo could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Hem Heng, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs press officer, said he had no information on Hardtke or other Global Witness officials being barred.
Alley, Taylor and Buckrell are London-based British nationals and are not in the country, Davis said.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Tuesday that Global Witness is leaving Cambodia, adding that it has not been conforming to Cambodian law.
“We don’t need Global Witness, so please go home. We ask [Swiss accounting firm Societe Generale de Surveillance]” to perform the job, he said.
However, Khieu Sopheak said the government may want at least one Global Witness official to leave because his visa may have expired.
“It is up to the Cambodian authorities to decide whether or not to issue a new visa,” Khieu Sopheak said. “They can come to Cambodia, but they have to comply with Cambodian law.”
The German Embassy said Tuesday that it was too early to comment, and the British Embassy did not return phone calls on the subject.
It was reported in April that the Council of Ministers had ordered a review of Global Witness’s presence in Cambodia, three years after it was fired from its forestry watchdog position.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry was to 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.
“Presently this organization still continues to release reports on forest crime in Cambodia,” the report said. “The Royal Cambodian government and international donors have already chosen SGS to replace Global Witness.”
Global Witness was appointed as the government’s forestry monitor in December 1999.
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.
SGS was appointed the new forestry monitor in July 2003, but Global Witness has continued to publish critical reports on forestry crime.