Goldman Prize-winning activist Ouch Leng has pledged to use the $175,000 in prize money to further the cause of forest protection, setting his sights on nothing short of the eradication of the Kingdom’s lucrative timber trade as a “first step”.
“I will use the cash prize for the protection of remaining forests, including the launching of mechanisms against the timber trade, such as gathering people for government advocacy with the aim to shut down all kinds of sawmill operations and timber-processing factories nationwide. This is what we need to do as a first step,” he said.
In a wide-ranging interview on Wednesday, Leng said that advocacy efforts should also pressure the international community to place restrictions on the purchase of timber from Vietnam and China “because the two countries buy [illegal] timber from Cambodia”, adding that government export licences for timber should be cancelled – “particularly to Vietnam and China, which consider themselves the bosses of Cambodia”.
Leng also touched on the government’s recent logging crackdown and moves to turn Prey Lang and other forests into protected areas, calling them political stunts to “send a message to the international community and people about its effort to take care of the forest in return for getting votes, but nevertheless, the people around [Prime Minister Hun Sen] are still trading timber”.
Leng, who has spent years documenting deforestation and the timber trade in the Kingdom – at times under cover – knows his work is dangerous, but he says he is undeterred, even if the Goldman Prize makes him a more visible target.
“I am afraid of experiencing Chut Wutty’s fate, but if I do not do it, others will not,” he said, referring to his fellow activist, who was shot to death in 2012 and who has become the subject of a documentary film, the recent screening of which the government has banned.
“The government is never happy with forest rangers, patrollers, natural-resource preservers and human rights activists. These people always experience death threats.”
Indeed, last month, a Prey Lang Community Network member was attacked while on patrol, and late last year, two forest rangers were shot and killed in Preah Vihear. Nonetheless, Leng called on “all Cambodian youth and students to cooperate to take care of the forest”.