PHNOM PENH—A Cambodia-based reporter for Radio Free Asia (RFA) covering allegations of large-scale illegal logging by Cambodia’s elite has fled to Thailand following a death threat.
“You beware. You watch out, you could get killed. Don’t be too outspoken—you can die,” an unidentified caller told Lem Pichpisey June 16, Lem said.
Lem had been investigating allegations by the British-based nonprofit Global Witness that Cambodia’s elite, including relatives and others close to Prime Minister Hun Sen, have engaged in illegal logging operations and destroyed public resources, notably Prey Long forest, some 120 miles (200 kms) northeast of the capital Phnom Penh. Lem had traveled to Prey Long to document illegal logging there.
Prey Long, in the central province of Kompong Thom, is the largest remaining lowland evergreen forest in mainland Southeast Asia. The forest comprises numerous endangered species.
“Cambodia is run by a kleptocratic elite that generates much of its wealth via the seizure of public assets,” the report said, adding that some of those involved have ties to Hun Sen’s wife Bun Rany.
“Illegal logging in Cambodia not only fills the pockets of the political elite; it also funds the activities of a 4,000-strong private army controlled by Hun Sen. The Brigade 70 unit runs a nationwide timber-trafficking and -smuggling service, catering to prominent tycoons, that generates profits of U.S. $2 million to U.S. $2.75 million per year. A large slice of these profits goes to [the] commander of the prime minister’s Bodyguard Unit Lieutenant-General Hing Bun Heang,” the report said.
The report centers its accusations on the government leader [Prime Minister Hun Sen] with an aim to provoke political animosity in the country, which exceeds the business of this organization.
“Despite evidence of widespread illegal activities and human rights abuses by Cambodia’s armed forces, some donors, notably the US, have resumed military assistance to the government,” it added.
RFA’s Khmer service contacted many of those named in the report, including Hun Sen’s brother Hun Neng. Hun Neng has been quoted as saying that if anyone from Global Witness came to Cambodia, he would “beat them on the head until it broke.” Most declined to be interviewed.
Government spokesman Khieu Kanarith has ordered all copies of the report in Cambodia seized and accused Global Witness of seeking “to incite political problems.”
He called the allegations in the report politically motivated but stopped short of rejecting them. "The report centers its accusations on the government leader [Prime Minister Hun Sen] with an aim to provoke political animosity in the country, which exceeds the business of this organization," he said.
A Cambodian newspaper that began serializing the report, Sralanh Khmer , had to stop after the government threatened to shut it down.
The French-language newspaper, Cambodge Soir , also published the Global Witness allegations, but then the newspaper’s owners fired the editor responsible and announced that the newspaper was closing.
Global Witness has monitored Cambodia's forests since 1995 but was expelled from the country in 2005.
Global Witness released its report, titled "Cambodia's Family Trees," ahead of the June 19-20 meeting of international donors to pledge new aid for Cambodia.
Dy Chouch, along with his ex-wife Seng Keang, an intimate friend of the Hun Sen family, and her brother Seng Kok Heang, runs the company which Global Witness says is illegally taking timber by the truckload from Prey Long under the guise of a rubber plantation development scheme.