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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Whales: votes for aid

Whales: votes for aid

Japan and Norway have been accused of attempting to buy Cambodia's support for

lifting a ban on the hunting of the endangered minke whale in the run-up to a

crucial vote on the subject in Nairobi in April.

Chun Sareth, the

official Cambodian delegate to the Convention on the International Trafficking

of Endangered Species (CITES) has told the Post that representatives of the

Japanese government promised aid money in exchange for Cambodia's vote in favor

of lifting a ban on the hunting and trading of the minke whale during a meeting

of Asian CITES members in Phnom Penh from Feb 21 to 24.

Japan has been

severely criticized in international environmental circles in recent months for

pursuing a policy securing international CITES delegates support for pro-whaling

initiatives in exchange for an affirmative vote at the Nairobi

meeting.

Sareth said that the Japanese CITES delegates had sought a

similar deal with Cambodia during the Phnom Penh meeting but added "they were

not clear about how much [aid money they would provide in

return]"

However, Sareth insisted that in spite of the Japanese offer,

Cambodia's decision on how it would vote on the minke whale issue in Nairobi

"would be based only on scientific evidence."

Horiuchi Toshihiko, First

Secretary of the Japanese Embassy in Phnom Penh flatly denied any allegations of

"vote buying" by Japanese officials, insisting that Sareth's statements were

based on a "misunderstanding."

"It's true that we have asked the

Cambodian government to support our proposal [regarding lifting a ban on whale

hunting]," Toshihiko told the Post March 1. "But it's not true that we have

asked for the support in exchange for aid."

Greenpeace has also accused

the Norwegian delegate to the Phnom Penh meeting of likewise seeking to buy

Cambodian support for a proposal to remove the minke whale from the endangered

species list.

Simon Reddy, Political Unit Advisor to Greenpeace

International in London, England told the Post on Feb 23 that Stein Owe,

Norway's delegate to the meeting, is well-known in environmental circles for

using Norwegian aid guarantees in exchange for support for the minke whale

proposal.

"It's quite obvious why he's here ... he's made it clear since

the start of the meeting because he's only spoken on the whale issue," Reddy

said. "The fact is that [Owe] has visited 70 countries in the past three months,

basically to get support for resumption for the minke whale down-listing," Reddy

said.

Reddy described Owe's presence as "suspicious" and indicative of an

attempt by Norway to influence as many CITES delegates as possible ahead of a

vote on the minke whale proposal in Nairobi in April.

"[Owe's] never been

to a CITES meeting before," Reddy explained. "The official delegate for Europe

is Italy, so arguably he needn't be here."

According to Reddy, Owe has

been provided with a $300,000 budget by the Norway whale lobby to visit

countries deemed "susceptible" to Norwegian requests for support of a delisting

of the minke whale from the endangered species list.

"Norway is targeting

poorer countries for support in lifting the [minke whale trade] ban," Reddy

explained. "Over the past months [Owe's] been to a lot of ex-USSR states [to

solicit support]."

Norway's whaling fleet dominated the minke whale

hunting trade, selling the vast majority of its catch to Japan, before a CITES

listing of the cetacean in the early 1990s.

Recent admissions by the

Japanese government regarding the linkage of certain Japanese foreign aid

guarantees to support for Japan's initiative to renew the hunting and trading of

whale meat created an outcry in international environmental circles.

A

vote in favor of permitting a renewal in the hunting and trading of minke whale

meat stands to provide Norway with a financial payoff well worth Owe's efforts

on its behalf.

"Norway now has over 500 tonnes of whale blubber in

freezer storage," Reddy said. "Currently the going rate for whale meat in Japan

is $180 per kilogram."

The Phnom Penh meeting was described by Owe as "an

ideal situation" for Owe to meet with and solicit support from CITES delegates

from around the world.

"This CITES meeting saves him a lot of trouble,"

he said. "Everyone he needs to meet with is right here, in one

place."

Sareth told the Post that Owe had not raised the question of

offering Norwegian aid for Cambodia's CITES vote in Nairobi

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