A top US senator is demanding that the World Bank halt aid for logging reforms in the aftermath of a police attack on villagers last month outside of the Department of Forestry.
In a Dec 20 letter to World Bank President James Wolfenson, senators Mitch McConnell and Patrick Leahy wrote the attack was “grounds for the World Bank—and all international donors—to immediately suspend support for the forestry reform project.
“It is time that the international community holds the Cambodian Government responsible for its actions,” the letter stated.
The Forestry Department has lashed out at Global Witness, accusing the independent forestry monitor of inciting a brawl between police and villagers last month and asking the government to take legal action against the group.
Most of the wrath has been directed against Global Witness coordinator Eva Galabru, although Forestry Department Director Ty Sokhun on Monday called her organization “extremists” bent on “embarrassing the government.”
Ty Sokhun said he has sent letters to the ministries of Agriculture and the Interior, asking them to pursue litigation against Global Witness.
He charged Global Witness with using the victims of the alleged police violence “as their tools.”
“They’ve exaggerated the story. They’ve discredited Cambodia’s honor,” he said.
Galabru said Monday that Phnom Penh’s Foreign Police called her to their offices for an interview Friday, but she did not go.
In November, Global Witness officials videotaped Phnom Penh police using clubs and electric batons against an unarmed crowd of provincial villagers who had come to the Department of Forestry to ask for a logging workshop.
Several villagers were wounded, but Ministry of Interior officials have denied attacking the villagers, saying instead they injured themselves running away as police moved to stop them from blocking the Forestry Department’s gates.
For Global Witness officials, the onslaught is part of a larger attempt to silence a budding democracy movement attempting to get a handle on the stripping of the country’s dwindling natural resources.
“There is clearly an attempt by forces in the government to intimidate the civil society out there,” Global Witness’ Marcus Hardtke said. “This is beyond Global Witness. Global Witness is just a symbol.”
(Additional reporting by Seth Meixner)