Press Release / Oct. 21, 1996

Civil war goes on hold as the Cambodian government and Khmer Rouge cooperate over timber deals

Despite the recent split within the Khmer Rouge (KR) Thai logging companies are doing ‘business as usual’ along the Thai/Cambodia border, according to a report released by British environmental & human rights group Global Witness today.

“Cambodia, where money grows on trees,” details how Cambodia’s Co-Prime Ministers have allocated over 870,000 cubic metres of timber, worth upwards of US$300 million, to 18 Thai logging companies. This deal reneges on promises made by the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) to its foreign aid donors at the July 1996 meeting of the Consultative Group (CG) on Cambodia, when they received pledges for over US$500 million for the forthcoming year.

The KR, now split into two factions, still control most of western Cambodia, bordering Thailand, and stand to make over US£35 million from the timber exports. Patrick Alley of Global Witness said “The KR loyal to Pol Pot have got their back’s against the wall, and Ieng Sary is negotiating for autonomy over the regions under his control. If these deals go through, Pol Pot gets the money he needs to fight, and Ieng Sary boosts his bargaining power, so the war goes on.”

Recently revised US legislation, the FY97 Foreign Operations Act, threatens to cut off US military aid to Thailand if the country continues to facilitate the timber trade with the KR. “The KR could not survive without supplies from, and trade with Thailand, “ said Global Witness’ Charmian Gooch ”Thailand’s role is crucial to the survival of the KR.”

The report goes on to analyse the guarantees made by the RGC in Tokyo to establish a Steering Committee to oversee future forest policy, and their failure to implement these guarantees.

The details in this report will be of major concern to Cambodia’s foreign aid donors, which include the UK, the EU, France, Japan and the US, who support Cambodia’s reconstruction in good faith. “It’s the same every year,” said Simon Taylor of Global Witness. “The RGC consistently misuse their most valuable natural resource, then promise to obey their own laws in the lead up to the CG meeting when they ask the international community for support, and once they’ve got the money they return to their old tricks.”

Timber revenue funds the continuing civil war in Cambodia, whilst deforestation threatens the country’s economy, stability, agricultural base and the natural environment.