Police in Kampong Thom province shut down a forest-protection training session yesterday, citing fears that it was encouraging residents to protest against logging in Prey Lang, activists and residents have said.
Sar Mory, a deputy of the Cambodian Youth Network (CYN), said that his group organised the session to teach 30 residents about ways of protecting the depleting Prey Lang forest and about their legal rights to the area.
“We taught them about ways to protect Prey Lang, because they are the people who live and depend on [the forest], so they really do not want to lose it because of logging,” Mory explained.
According to Mory, the training was cut short when five policemen arrived and ordered the group to end the session and for him to report to the Sandan district governor. He said he refused the second order.
“The authorities seem to be scared when the residents have knowledge to protest … against logging,” he said.
Earlier this month, a public forum organised by the Prey Lang Community Network in Preah Vihear province’s Chey Sen district was cancelled after provincial authorities banned the meeting.
Twenty-eight-year-old Sok Channa, who attended yesterday’s session, said that residents rely on advocacy and training from NGOs to assist their anti-logging efforts.
“We used to patrol and crack down on loggers by ourselves. We need training about the law so we can [find legal ways to protest against logging],” she said.
Oung San, Sandan commune police chief, said authorities should have been told about the training beforehand.
“Police did not say the training is illegal, but [CYN] must inform local authorities first.… We have a right to know, too,” he said.
But Mory disagreed.
“We do not need to inform the authorities first, because we have a right to offer training,” he said.
Last week, activists working in Prey Lang forest accused military and police officers of being behind two illegal timber hauls they intercepted.