Cambodian officials in London have baulked at their challenge to openly debate environmental watchdog Global Witness, which recently warned of damaging coastal sand dredging.
Cambodian Ambassador to the UK Hor Nambora issued an open challenge for a debate in April, saying, it was “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 the Cambodian people.”
UK-based Global Witness, which is an internationally recognized environmental monitoring group, accepted the offer last week.
However, in a May 21 letter to Global Witness Director Simon Taylor, Hor Nambora now says he will not enter a debate, claiming the group has a “hidden agenda” to discredit the Cambodian government.
Global Witness has continually rankled leaders in Phnom Penh with heavily researched reports on timber, oil and mining, and the senior officials and businessmen who run the industries. Its reports are banned in Cambodia, which the group says is being hurt by a kleptocratic elite close to Prime Minister Hun Sen.
In a May report, Global Witness criticized the alleged sale of dredged sand from Cambodia’s coastal zones for sale to Singapore, despite a ban by Hun Sen. That report sparked the latest round of challenges from the Cambodian government. The Cambodian Embassy in London called that report “cheap and rubbish.”
In his letter, the ambassador said Global Witness suffers from “epilepsy and other mental disabilities.”
Mam Sambath, chairman of the group Cambodians for Resource Revenue Transparency, who was on his way to attend oil giant Chevron’s annual meeting in Texas, said he supported public debate on Cambodia’s natural resources.
“If we look at the website of the Ministry of Economics and Finance, in the natural resource revenues section, there is no revenue from the sand trade, while sand is being traded to Singapore,” he said. “Therefore, if there is such a trade, the ministry should include the revenue from sand trade in Koh Kong in its Web page.”