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Dolphin report could lead to false information charge

Dolphin report could lead to false information charge

090630_03.jpg
090630_03.jpg

Official says govt is waiting on response from WWF, which in a recent report said the Irrawaddy dolphin was near extinction.

Photo by: Christopher Shay

Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong River face imminent extinction drew criticism from the Cambodian government, which said Monday that the group could face charges of publishing false information.

A GOVERNMENT official said Monday that the conservation group WWF could be charged with publishing false information if it did not revise a recent report stating that Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong River were on the verge of extinction.

Touch Seang Tana, chairman of Cambodia's Commission to Conserve Mekong River Dolphins and Develop Eco-Tourism, said WWF had not yet responded to a letter he wrote last week about the report.

"I am still waiting for their reply," Touch Seang Tana said. "When I get their reply I will organise a meeting and invite top government officials to listen." He said officials would bring false information charges if the report was not corrected.

WWF Country Director Teak Seng said Monday that the group planned to respond to the letter, but that he did not know exactly when it would do so.  

Nicole Frisini, a WWF communications officer, declined to comment when asked whether a response was forthcoming.  

Touch Seang Tana said of Teak Seng, "We still respect him and his NGO, which is famous all over the world. He has to keep his honour. If I were him, I would admit a mistake. If I was invited [to provide an explanation] today, I would respond by the next day."   

The report, released earlier this month, stated that 88 Irrawaddy dolphins had died since 2003, 60 percent of which had been calves under two weeks old that succumbed to a bacterial disease.

"This disease would not be fatal unless the dolphin's immune systems were suppressed, as they were in these cases, by environmental contaminants," said Dr Verne Dove, the author of the report and a WWF Cambodia veterinarian, in a press statement that coincided with the report's release.

The report estimated the population of the the Irrawaddy dolphin at between 64 and 76 members.

At the time of the report's release, Touch Seang Tana dismissed its findings as "all lies" and said his own research indicated that the dolphin population had grown in recent years.

The threat to pursue false information charges came three days after Hang Chakra, the editor of an opposition-affiliated newspaper, was sentenced to one year in prison and fined 9 million riels (US$2,167) for articles he published that charged government officials with corruption.

Under the UNTAC Criminal Code, publishing false information carries a potential prison term of between six months and three years and a fine of up to 10 million riels.

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