In 1993 the infamous Khmer Rouge returned to war, boycotting Cambodia’s UN brokered elections and undermining the Paris Peace Accords which had been signed by all Cambodian parties in 1991. Posing as timber buyers on the Thai-Cambodia border, the three founders showed how the Khmer Rouge depended on the timber trade with Thailand, which was generating between US$10-20 million per month. Global Witness’ investigations ultimately triggered the closure of the border and the end of the trade. This resulted in the removal of the Khmer Rouge’s remaining source of funding, which played a significant role in forcing them to defect to the government – because it no-longer had the resources to fight.
Since then, we have taken a similar mix of investigations and advocacy to many other countries, and continued our work in Cambodia. We have shown how the country’s political and business leaders have exploited the country’s natural resources for personal profit and to shore up their own positions of power. Unfortunately, apart from some notable moments of exception, Cambodia’s international donors have turned a blind eye and maintained their finance for essential state services such as infrastructure, healthcare and education, whilst Cambodia’s political elite have continued to loot the country for their own gains.
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Cambodia offers a stark illustration of how natural resources can be a curse, not a blessing, to a country’s population.
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The same political elite who squandered Cambodia’s timber resources are now responsible for managing its mineral and petroleum wealth.
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Cambodia is run by a kleptocratic elite that generates much of its wealth via the seizure of public assets, particularly natural resources.