Environmental watchdog Global Witness, threatened with expulsion from Cambodia earlier this month by Prime Minister Hun Sen, has been meeting with government officials in hopes of defusing the situation.
John Buckrell, Global Witness, co-director, said the agency had a “very fruitful” meeting recently with the Department of Inspections at the Ministry of the Environment. But so far, he said, the agency hasn’t met with high-level officials.
“We are meeting with various donors to try to resolve the issue,” Buckrell said. “The donors are trying to broker a meeting” with the government.
Urooj Malik, country representative of the Asian Development Bank, said a meeting is set for Friday to resolve the impasse. Malik said the meeting will include officials from the Department of Forestry and Wildlife and ADB representatives.
An Inspection Department official with the Ministry of Environment, who did not want to be identified, said Global Witness had asked officials to support its commitment to forestry reform.
“Personally, I think Global Witness has done a good job,” the official said. “[But] Global Witness should work for the government, to crack down on illegal logging, not to trip up the government.”
The agency’s troubles began in late January when it released a report accusing officials in the Department of Forestry and Wildlife of either colluding with illegal logging or being too incompetent to stop it.
Because the embarrassing report was released to the media—and not the government—just before the biannual donors’ meeting, the premier threatened the group with expulsion.
Global Witness has since apologized and has been working to repair the breach.
In late 1996, the International Monetary Fund suspended its loan programs due to the government’s inability to control illegal logging. The IMF subsequently made independent monitoring a condition of the forest crime monitoring program, which is funded by Britain and Australia.
Mario de Zamaroczy, the IMF’s resident representative, recently said Global Witness must continue as the government’s independent monitor if IMF support is to continue.