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Meeting focuses on Prey Lang

Preah Vihear province
Hundreds of villagers from four provinces gathered yesterday in Preah Vihear to express concerns about land concessions in Prey Lang forest at a forum with local government officials.

The gathering, organised by the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, drew about 600 residents of Preah Vihear, Stung Treng, Kratie and Kampong Thom provinces. As they did last week during a protest at Phnom Penh’s “Freedom Park”, a number of villagers donned green clothing and painted their faces to symbolise their connection with the forest.

The  Prey Lang forest, which stretches for roughly 3,600-square kilometres between the Mekong and Stung Treng rivers across parts of four provinces – Kampong Thom, Kratie, Preah Vihear and Stung Treng – lacks state protection despite its rich biodiversity and value to local people.

The Prey Lang network, a local activist group, says more than 40,000 hectares in the forest have been granted for rubber plantations alone, while 27 exploration licences and related concessions have been handed to mining firms.

Chheang Vuthy, a village representative from Kampong Thom, accused the government of ignoring the needs of local communities in granting the concessions. “Please don’t destroy our forest if you have the power. You aren’t paying attention to villagers who will care for the forest,” he said.

Officials at the forum, however, defended the concession process. “Before deciding to allow a company to invest, the Ministry [of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries] studies in detail” the affect of a proposed concession on local communities, said Poeng Trida, director of the Preah Vihear provincial agricultural department.

Preah Vihear deputy governor Srey Bunthan declined to answer questions from villagers at the forum, claiming that the event was politically biased and that her time to respond had been unfairly “deducted”.

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