The US Senate’s committee on foreign appropriations has urged that Cambodian officials named in Global Witness’ controversial June report on illegal logging in Cambodia be banned from entering the US.
In a report dated July 10 and received Wednesday, the committee urged the administration of US President George W Bush to exercise Presidential Proclamation 7750, which was signed by Bush in 2004 and allows the US to block individuals involved with public corruption that adversely affects US interests from entering the country.
“The committee encourages other countries, particularly in Europe and Asia, to implement similar restrictions,” the report states. The report helps form the basis for the 2008 Senate appropriations bill, which determines US foreign aid.
In the bombastic and at times irreverent report, “Cambodia’s Family Trees,” Britain-based NGO Global Witness accused a “kleptocratic” elite of pillaging Cambodia’s forests.
Cambodian officials have denied Global Witness’ claims and banned domestic distribution of its report.
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith wrote in an e-mail from the Maldives on Wednesday that the US Senate committee’s recommendation was politically motivated.
“On what grounds [does] the author assume that the [Global Witness] report is based on real fact?” Khieu Kanharith wrote. “By making this proposal, the author or authors already harm the economic interest of the USA,” he added, though he did not elaborate.
Khieu Kanharith said the Senate should have taken into account reports by Swiss-based Societe Generale de Surveillance, Cambodia’s former forestry monitor, which has contradicted claims made by Global Witness.
US Embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle declined to comment on the Senate committee’s report directly, saying the State Department does not comment on draft legislation.
But he added in an e-mail: “We believe that illegal logging is a serious problem in Cambodia, but we are not aware of evidence that would substantiate all the allegations Global Witness made against high-ranking officials. We believe there are those high in the government who are concerned about illegal logging and working hard to counter it.”
Global Witness Director Simon Taylor said in a statement Tuesday that the US Senate has sent “a clear message to corrupt governments around the world that stripping a nation’s natural resources for personal gain is no longer internationally acceptable.”
Taylor added that it is up to other donor countries that profess an interest in the welfare of Cambodians “to impose their own sanctions on those kleptocrats who are destroying Cambodia’s prospects for sustainable development.”
Global Witness campaigner Eleanor Nichol wrote in an e-mail Wednesday that she was not aware of any other nations considering similar sanction. “High-level, large scale corruption by public officials anywhere threatens America’s global interests,” she wrote.
“These interests include ensuring security and stability, the rule of law, core democratic values and advancing prosperity,” she added.
Foreign appropriations committee staffers in Washington did not immediately return requests for comment. Officials named in Global Witness’ report, who have previously denied the group’s allegations, said they were untroubled by the Senate committee’s recommendation.
Ty Sokhun, director general of the Forest Administration, said he was too busy working for his country to trouble himself with allegations that were not based on fact. “It is laughable,” he said.
Minister of Agriculture Chan Sarun said he doubted that the travel ban would be enacted. “The US is not stupid,” he said, adding that Global Witness should provide better evidence to back up its allegations, which he said were groundless.
Lieutenant General Hing Bun Heang, commander of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit, also said that Global Witness’ allegations against him were completely false. “I have protected the forest. I do not destroy it,” he said, adding: “Banning my visa or allowing my visa [for the US] is not a problem because I don’t want to go to that country.”