A senior World Bank official suggested on Sunday that the government faces a review for its plan to end its relationship with Global Witness, the independent forestry monitor with offices in Phnom Penh that has strongly condemned the country’s logging practices. At risk in such a review may be millions of dollars in international funding that the World Bank has been urged to tie to reforms in the logging industry.
International pressure has weighed on the government over the logging issue since a World Bank-funded study in 1998 concluded Cambodia’s commercially viable timber would be depleted within five years.
“The World Bank continues to believe that Global Witness has performed a valuable monitoring function in the forest sector,” said Ian Porter, Cambodia country director for the World Bank, in a statement issued Sunday.
“The World Bank regrets the Cambodian government’s intention to terminate its relationship with Global Witness,” the statement said. “The bank is considering its work in the forest sector in light of numerous factors, including this and other recent developments. We will be consulting with the government and other stakeholders in the coming weeks as part of this review.”
Precedent for tying international funds to logging was set in 1996 when the International Monetary Fund froze or canceled $60 million in loans for what it said was widespread corruption among timber companies and the government. The loans were restarted only after the government agreed to hire Global Witness as an environmental watchdog.
The latest troubles were sparked by a Dec 5 confrontation between police and a group of villagers who were asking to see logging company plans on file at the Department of Forestry.
At least one person’s foot was broken in the ensuing melee, according to the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, and a man died that evening of a heart attack, though his death has not been definitively linked to the incident.
Several human rights groups in recent days have joined calls for the government to explain the crackdown. At least two groups have called for an independent investigation. CHRAC said in a statement that based on interviews it conducted with witnesses, police injured villagers with electric batons.
Government officials have denied that excessive force was used and have specifically chastised Global Witness for a news release it issued within hours after the confrontation claiming that people were seriously hurt.
“Since there are different interpretations as to whether electro shock batons were used on the gathering of women and men, CHRAC urges the government to form an independent commission to investigate the case,” a statement from CHRAC said.
A second statement from the Khmer Democratic Students and Intellectual Front said that donors should link aid to Cambodia to the protection of the forest. The statement also called for an independent investigation and the creation of a special court to try people guilty of crimes against the forest.