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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Envoy to UK aims criticism at watchdog

Envoy to UK aims criticism at watchdog

THE ambassador to the United Kingdom has accused Global Witness of pursuing “a ferocious politically motivated campaign against the government of Cambodia” after the international watchdog said a US$28 million payment made by a French oil company lacked transparency.

Hor Nambora issued a statement on Friday condemning the group, one day after it said the issue of extractive industries payments must be addressed when donors meet with the government in June.

“The people of Cambodia and governments who give development assistance have a legitimate right to know what happened to that money,” Global Witness said in a statement.

Eleanor Nichol, a campaigner for Global Witness, said Sunday that the group stood by the statement, and added: “The easiest way to clarify this issue would be for the Cambodian government to publicly issue details on this payment and others made by companies.”

Penelope Semavoine, a spokeswoman for Total, confirmed last Thursday that the company had paid a $20 million signature bonus in January to the Cambodia National Petroleum Authority and had earmarked an additional $8 million for a social development fund in order to secure exploration rights to the 2,430-square-kilometre offshore block designated Area III.

Prime Minister Hun Sen referred to the Total deal in a speech last week, comparing it to a payment he said had been made by mining giant BHP Billiton, which has recently launched an internal inquiry that some have speculated concerns its work in Cambodia.

Global Witness has been a frequent target of Hor Nambora, who routinely goes after groups and media outlets he accuses of being unfairly critical of the Cambodian government.

In his most recent statement, the ambassador said, “It’s time Global Witness was stopped in its tracks and forced to explain and justify its campaign of smear and hatred against the Cambodian government and Cambodian people.”

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