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Friday, June 01, 2007

Cambodian prince appeals guilty verdict in breach-of-trust case

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: A former Cambodian prime minister, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, has appealed his conviction of breach of trust against the Cambodian royalist party he once led, the prince's lawyer said Thursday.

In March, a muncipal court judge sentenced Ranariddh, son of former King Norodom Sihanouk, in absentia to 18 months in jail for breach of trust against the royalist Funcinpec party in a sale of a party property. The party had ousted Ranariddh as its leader in October.

Ranariddh's lawyer, Muong Arun, called the ruling "unacceptable" on Thursday, adding that he had filed the appeal two days before.

Ranariddh was also ordered to pay US$150,000 (€110,000) in compensation to the party in his sentence, which was in connection with the sale of the Funcinpec party headquarters.

The judge in the trial said Ranariddh had intentionally registered the property in his own name, rather than in the party's name, but said there was insufficient evidence to prove the party's allegations that the prince had embezzled US$3.6 million (€2.7 million) in the sale.

Funcinpec rejected him as its leader on Oct. 18, citing his alleged incompetence and frequent absences from the country.

Ranariddh is now president of the party he formed after his ouster, the Norodom Ranariddh Party.

His spokesman, Muth Chantha, originally said of the March ruling that seeking an appeal would amount to recognizing the guilty verdict, but on Thursday he said that Ranariddh "wants to show to the world whether the Appeals Court can guarantee him a justice or not."

Ranariddh is currently living in France.

If the verdict is not reversed, Ranariddh will be barred from running for public office in Cambodia unless he serves at least two-thirds of his jail term or receives a pardon from King Norodom Sihamoni, his half brother.
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Cambodia's elite stripping last forests while foreign donors do little, NGO claims

BANGKOK, Thailand: Senior government officials and tycoons in Cambodia, including relatives of the prime minister, are illegally felling some of the country's last, once-great forests while international donors who bankroll the impoverished nation do virtually nothing to stop the plunder, a non-governmental organization said Friday.

"Logging is part of a massive asset stripping for the benefit of a small kleptocratic elite," said Simon Taylor, director of the London-based Global Witness, referring to powerful businessmen, senior military and police officers and ministers closely linked to Prime Minister Hun Sen.

"The forests of Cambodia have been ransacked over the past decade by this mafia with little or no benefit flowing down to the ordinary people," Taylor said in an interview before the release of a 95-page report detailing massive corruption and illegal logging which continues under the eyes of foreign donors who annually provide some US$600 million (€446 million) in aid — equivalent to about half the national budget.

Taylor said the destruction has further impoverished Cambodia's already hard-pressed rural people by depriving them of forest products, including food and medicines, as well as vital water sources.

Two individuals cited in the report as among the kingpins denied all wrongdoing, while the government spokesman, Khieu Kanharith, provided with a copy of the report, did not respond despite numerous attempts to reach him.

The aid-giving Consultative Group on Cambodia, which includes Australia, the European Union, Japan, the United States and the World Bank, has over the years voiced concern over Cambodia's forestry sector. But non-governmental groups like Global Witness say the group has applied little pressure on the regime to institute genuine reform despite the leverage they could exercise.

Hun Sen has made promises, normally before the aid givers gather, and strident verbal attacks against foreign critics of Cambodia's record on logging as well as human rights and corruption. The next group meeting is scheduled for late June.

"The donors have failed. They are basically spineless. The message that Hun Sen gets from the donors is that they don't really give a damn," Taylor said.

He said the only hope for Cambodia's remaining forests would be for the international community to make tough demands, and speak with one voice.

Under criticism, the government in 2002 suspended widespread logging concessions to foreign and local companies which had blatantly raped the forests.

But these, the report says, have simply been replaced by devious ways to continue illegal felling, including "economic land concessions" under which forests are cut down to make way for plantations and the timber sold in contravention of a 2001 law. Permits and licenses are illegally issued by government officials to cronies, while the armed forces "have kept up an assault on the country's forests that does not even pretend to be legitimate," the report says.

Brigade 70, the reserve force for Hun Sen's personal bodyguard unit, is also the country's timber transport and trafficking service, according to Global Witness, which has monitored Cambodia's forests for the past 12 years and was expelled from the country in 2005.

The most powerful logging syndicate is headed by Dy Chouch, the prime minister's first cousin. He, along with his ex-wife Seng Keang, an intimate friend of the Hun Sen family, and her brother Seng Kok Keang, runs a company which Global Witness says is illegally taking timber by the truck loads from Prey Long under the guise of a rubber plantation development scheme.

Prey Long, located in the central province of Kompong Thom, is the largest remaining lowland evergreen forest in mainland Southeast Asia and home to endangered wildlife, including elephant, gaur, tiger and the Asiatic black bear.

The land was awarded to Seng Keang Company by Minister of Agriculture Chan Sarun, brother-in-law of one of the company's business partners who is related to Ty Sokun, director-general of the Forestry Administration and an adviser to Hun Sen.

Ty Sokun described Global Witness staffers as "insane, unprofessional people" with no knowledge of forestry, and said their report was deceptive. He said Cambodia has increased its forest cover in recent years.

However, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates the country lost 29 percent of its primary tropical forests between 2000 and 2005, and most foreign experts agree that the loss continues at an alarming rate.

Seng Kok Heang said his company had legal permits to cut and transport logs out of Prey Long, having won a concession from the government to turn 6,200 hectares (15,320 acres) hectares into a rubber plantation. He said the accusations against him were "unacceptable," also dismissing Global Witness allegations that he attempted to kill two community forest activist who had protested illegal logging in Prey Long.

Reporters Ker Munthit and Cheang Sopheng in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, contributed to this report.
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CAMBODIA: Government urges pressure to save lorises - 01/06/2007

Not much is known about lorises. They are small, nocturnal primates found only in South and Southeast Asia, but they're about to be put in the spotlight at the Hague in the Netherlands. Representatives from some 170 countries are meeting to ensure that trade in wild animals and plants don't threaten the survival of animals like lorises.

Presenter - Parthena Stavropoulos Speaker - Vincent Nijman, Zoological Museum in Amsterdam; Chris Shepherd, senior program officer with the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC in Malaysia

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STAVROPOULOS: Lorises live in tropical and subtropical rainforests and have low reproductive rates. They are often poached from the wild and traded as exotic pets, or killed for traditional medicines, and it is suspected their numbers are declining. Vincent Nijman from the Zoological Museum in Amsterdam:

NIJMAN: There was an assessment for their conservation status last year in Cambodia - of all Asian primates, not just slow lorises - and it was decided mainly on the basis of loss of habitat (not trade because not too much data on trade was available at that time), that all five species are threatened. Some are vulnerable, some are endangered, and that's only on the basis of habitat loss. If you add to that the information that's coming available on trade both nationally and internationally, they're not doing very well, so yes, they are threatened.

STAVROPOULOS: The lorises are currently listed on Appendix II of CITES, which means they can be traded only with a permit.
The Cambodian Government says the listing isn't strong enough, because it makes them vulnerable to commercial international trade. It wants them elevated to Appendix I, the most protected category under the Washington Treaty. But already its proposal is creating some controversy within environmental circles. Chris Shepherd is a senior program officer with the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, based in Malaysia.

SHEPHERD: The biggest threat to the slow loris is the domestic trade. In some countries, for example Indonesia, there's quite a large domestic market for slow loris. You go to any bird markets and chances are you'll find them. Over the years we've seen hundreds of them for sale in the markets in Indonesia, and that's probably a very big threat to the conservation of these animals, but that is purely a domestic issue.

STAVROPOULOS: While the network supports moves to better protect the animal, Mr Shepherd says there's not enough evidence the international trade is a major threat to the species.

SHEPHERD: Obviously we want increased protection for the species. CITES only governs international trade, and international trade may not be the greatest threat to the species. Having said that though, there is a lack of information out there.

STAVROPOULOS: Mr Shepherd says the illegal trade is prevalent in Indonesia and Cambodia, and throughout Southeast Asia, but little is done to combat the crime.

SHEPHERD: In cities like Jakarta, Madan, Surabaya, in Indonesia, that have huge bird markets, and slow lorises are just one of many protected species that are illegally traded there, these are openly displayed, and that just points to a lack of effort to shut them down. In other countries, such as Cambodia, there's quite a large trade there for traditional medicines. But again this is a domestic issue and not an international issue and therefore falls under domestic legislation and not CITES.

STAVROPOULOS. But Cambodia is hoping recent incidents of the illegal trade will change that view. Only last week, 40 of the animals were detected by customs officials at Narita airport after being smuggled from Bangkok, the biggest single such seizure of its kind. Mr Nijman says the list of lorises being illegally traded to Europe and the US is also growing.

NIJMAN: We have a very, very long list of individuals that have been traded, so very regularly lorises are being confiscated in countries outside where they occur naturally, I think the list of animals that have been traded in the last few years, is quite long and quite impressive.

STAVROPOULOS: TRAFFIC says lorises are already protected by national legislation throughout their range, and therefore any existing trade is illegal. It says listing them on Appendix I won't change the situation, unless national enforcement efforts are increased. Cambodia needs two thirds of the vote at next week's convention for its proposal to pass.
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