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.