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Donors voice forestry concern

Donors voice forestry concern

Global Witness will be replaced as the country's official forest crime monitor within

three months, Prime Minister Hun Sen told donors at the interim consultative group

(CG) meeting on January 28.

"The government has no intention to suspend or stop the mechanism process for

controlling the forestry crimes," Hun Sen said. He added that "a the new

organization will be examined and allowed to take the place of Global Witness within

three months".

The government had previously threatened to expel Global Witness. It accused the

organization of exaggerating claims of police violence against villagers who protested

peacefully outside government offices in December 2002 to get copies of forest management

plans. The government had promised the plans would be made publicly available.

Urooj Malik, Asian Development Bank country director and lead from the donor community

on the meeting, was quick to point out that Global Witness would not be evicted from

the country.

"Global Witness has done a good job and it has been allowed by the government

to play a new role in an advisory capacity," he said. "They will continue

to be present and will be part of the Ministry of Environment."

Donor concerns about the government's handling of forestry reform dominated several

hours of discussion at the half-yearly meeting. A statement by the donor working

group on natural resource management (WGNRM) expressed deep concern about "recent

forest sector developments and the credibility of the forestry reform process".

In particular, the working group said that "the unreasonable and unnecessarily

short period allowed for public comment" on the forestry management plans and

environmental and social impact assessments had eliminated any possible benefits

of the public gaining access to the documents. The group also said the government

had used force in responding to public demonstrations.

"Some critical benchmarks under the forestry sector have been missed entirely,

while others have been reached but not necessarily in the full spirit of reform,"

it said in regards to the government's performance since the CG meeting in June 2002.

The working group said that the government needed to engage more openly with stakeholders

to ensure that the prevailing "unproductive climate of trust and suspicion"

was changed so that reforms could get back on track. If donors remain concerned,

this would limit them providing additional funding to the forestry sector in Cambodia,

the statement warned.

However the goverment said that it had successfully implemented "strict measures"

to "eliminate illegal logging and fishing". This, it stated, had caused

the national and international community to "view the efforts of the ... government

in the forest and fishery policy reform with high regard".

Although forestry dominated the debate, other priority areas discussed included fiscal

reform, public administration reform and social sector, legal and judicial reforms.

Malik's closing address said that "there appeared to be a mismatch between rhetoric

and action," and said that donors had also expressed concerns regarding "the

slow pace of reform in some key areas".

A draft statement by the donors' working group on governance was very critical of

the lack of legal and judicial reform, which it described as being of the "highest

importance".

"It must be candidly recognized that very little progress has been achieved"

on the governance reform benchmarks that were set at last June's CG meeting, said

the donor statement.

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