Select Committee on International Development Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence - Sixth Report


Memorandum from Global Witness

   Any serious discussion aimed at conflict resolution should discuss the role natural resources often play in conflict propagation. Recent press coverage of the Sierra Leone affair is a case in point, where lucrative diamond deals were almost certainly the main stimulation for Sandline's (and Previously Executive Outcomes') involvement in fighting for the democratic principle--the same is probably true for the senior officers of Nigeria's ECOMOG forces.

   Global Witness is a London based NGO which looks at the link between environmental exploitation and human rights abuse. To date, our focus has been mainly in Cambodia, where a large scale illegal trade of timber across Cambodia's borders and by sea has financed the civil war.

  Following the signing of the Paris Peace Accords on Cambodia in 1991, the Khmer Rouge (KR) suffered a sharp reduction in international support. In response they massively increased their exploitation of the natural resources available to them in their areas of occupation--timber and gems. By early 1995, Global Witness investigations showed that the KR were generating between US$10-20 million per month from their illegal timber trade with Thai based companies located around the Thai/Cambodian border. In addition, senior Cambodian Government officials including the co-Prime Ministers were secretly providing illegal Certificates of Origin for these exports and so generating a secret parallel military budget, estimated to be roughly equivalent to 50% of Cambodia's national budget. By providing these documents, Phnom Penh was effectively fund-raising for its battlefield enemies.

  Signatories to the 1991 Paris Agreement (which included Thailand), which led to the UN's involvement and the subsequent elections in Cambodia in 1993, were obligated to desist from further support for any of the warring factions. However, rather than cut its links with the KR, Thailand used its close contacts which had been developed during the 1980s to negotiate lucrative logging deals, facilitated by members of the Thai Government and Thai Military to the highest levels. Despite Thai denials, this trade continued with the full knowledge of the UN during their administrative period in Cambodia, and was also the subject of UN Resolutions calling for the trade to end.

  However, the international community did nothing to raise the issue to any effect with the Thais and to pressure them to close the border to log exports, allowing Thailand to continue its claim that all links with the KR had been severed. This in turn provided the majority of the income which the KR required to continue their war against the elected Government in Phnom Penh, resulting in further suffering and the massive loss of Cambodia's natural heritage. In May 1995, Global Witness published evidence of senior Thai Military and Government involvement in this trade and following considerable debate in the Thai media, the Thai Government closed the border with Cambodia to exports of logs by road.

  In late August 1996, approximately 50% of the KR forces defected with the KR's former Foreign Minister, Ieng Sary. Global Witness believes that the decision to defect was intimately connected to this groups inability to generate income by exporting timber to Thailand.

Global Witness

June 1998

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