Watchdog, Gov’t Try To Resolve Differences

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.

 

 

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