The US State Department blasted the Cambodian government Friday for firing the independent forestry monitor Global Witness last week, citing the failure of the government to live up to its earlier promises of forest reforms.
The State Department urged the government to reverse its decision and hinted at possible aid reductions as a result of the Global Witness fracas, according to a statement.
“The Cambodian government has not lived up to its pledge to maintain continuous forestry monitoring by an independent internationally recognized forestry monitor,” said the statement issued by State Department deputy spokesman Philip Reeker.
“We consider independent monitoring of forests a significant factor in future donor decisions and important for multilateral development bank support,” the statement continued.
The Cambodian government has already lost the support, if only temporarily, of the World Bank, which has suspended a $15 million credit until a new forest monitor is put in place.
The history of international involvement in Cambodia’s logging reforms has long hinged on aid money: The appointment of UK-based Global Witness in 1999 as the government’s independent environmental watchdog was itself a concession by the government in order to win back funding from the International Monetary Fund, which had suspended aid in 1996 over reports of uncontrolled logging.
Despite the specter of losing aid, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced three months ago that he would take the advice of his Forest Department director, Ty Sokhun, and fire Global Witness, giving the monitor until last week to complete its work.
Global Witness had violated the terms of its contract by publishing a report on illegal logging in 2001 without notifying the government, government officials said; relations worsened last year as Global Witness urged more accountability from the government over a series of management plans for logging areas around the country.
A spokesman for Danida, which represents a group of donor organizations working on logging reform issues in Cambodia, said it’s unlikely that a new monitor will be chosen until the end of June.