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Government bans report by environmental watchdog linking top officials to illegal logging

(SEAPA/IFEX) - The Cambodian government has banned a report by a London-based environmental watchdog that accuses Prime Minister Hun Sen and top government officials, as well as their relatives and cronies, of plundering the country's forests through illegal logging.

On 5 June 2007, government officials seized copies of the report and accused Global Witness, the organisation which produced it, of overstepping its purview and attempting "to incite political problems".

Despite Information Minister Khieu Kanharith's claim that "the suppression and confiscation of the report does not concern the freedom to publish and disseminated information, which the government strongly supports", Global Witness Director Simon Taylor has decried the government action as "senseless censorship."

"Attempts to suppress this report will not make the facts that it presents disappear. We would very much like to know the legal basis for this decision," Taylor said in a statement.

"The reaction to this report raises a serious question for Cambodia's international donors," he added.

The 95-page Global Witness report, "Cambodia's Family Trees: Illegal Logging and the Stripping of Public Assets", is still accessible on the Internet. Released ahead of the 19-20 June annual meeting of Cambodia's international donors to discuss future aid to the country, it also accuses these donors of apathy regarding the problem.

This is not the first time that the government has confiscated a report by the organisation, which has been monitoring Cambodia's forests for 12 years. In 2005, customs officers at Phnom Penh International Airport seized 2,000 copies of "Taking a Cut", which contained similar accusations of corruption and illegal logging in the country (see IFEX alert of 22 July 2005).

The government dropped the group as the country's independent forest monitors in 2003 and banished it in September 2005 after Hun Sen declared it "finished".

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