PM Criticizes Global Witness, Says it’s ‘Finished’

Prime Minister Hun Sen attacked critics of the government’s forestry policies Thursday, saying they fail to realize that the majority of Cam­bo­dians rely on wood for daily survival.

“That trees are being cut illegally cannot be denied,” he said, speaking at a tree nursery inauguration in Svay Rieng province. “Trees have too many enemies: fire, vines, firewood seekers.”

Critics would better help the country with development projects ra­ther than words, Hun Sen said. “Foreigners had better understand this situation well before criticizing the government.”

The prime minister singled out the government’s former forestry watchdog Global Witness, saying it was “finished.”

“Global Witness has accused the gov­ernment of killing people,” Hun Sen said. “Global Witness even criticized [Societe Generale de Sur­veil­lance] of taking bribes from the government. It was absurd.”

He praised recent efforts by tree nursery owners to heal damage caused by deforestation, adding that 30 million trees have been planted over the past few years.

Mike Davis of Global Witness said that while the environmental group and others have questioned SGS’ independence as it is paid di­rectly by the government, it has ne­ver accused the new watchdog of taking bribes.

Global Witness raised concerns af­ter a man died of a heart attack short­ly after police armed with electric batons cracked down on a pro­test at the forestry administration, he said.

Davis added that Global Witness has never accused the government of killing anyone, and that the NGO is far from finished operating in Cam­bodia. “The information the prime minister is receiving from his advisers is incorrect.”

He said that critics and donors have repeatedly stated that illegal logging doesn’t revolve around villagers collecting firewood, but around large-scale operations conducted with the authorization, and sometimes involvement, of government officials.

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