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Prayers to forest spirit as villagers fear future

More than 100 villagers who gathered to pray in Prey Lang forest yesterday will lose their lives if they lose their forest to development or illegal logging, a Prey Lang Network representative has said.

The ethnic Kuoy villagers and members of the network united to invoke the spirit of Prey Lang in a bid to have it watch over the forest and deter illegal loggers.

Yem Sokhoy, a member of the Prey Lang Network and a representative of ethnic villagers from Stung Treng province, said villagers also voiced concerns over the Ministry of Agriculture’s drafting of a sub-decree pertaining to the forest, which they say they weren’t given the opportunity to contribute to.

“The sub-decree does not write that people have the right to protect the forest,” Yem Sokhoy said.  

“If there is crime, people can report quickly to the local authority because they live directly in the forest,” he said, adding that villagers feared eviction after the adoption of the sub-decree.

Villagers from four provinces surrounding Prey Lang – Kompong Thom, Preah Vihear, Kratie and Stung Treng – left boiled chicken, pork and wine at a cottage dedicated to the spirit of Prey Lang.

This ceremony, held in the middle of the forest in Kompong Thom province’s Sandan district, coincided with the Buddhist Meak Bochea Day.

Seng Sok Heng, another member of the Prey Lang Network, said the ceremony showed people could use “non-violent ways” to protest against future development at Prey Lang.

“Although this ceremony does not give a good solution for villagers, it helps a little bit,” he said.

“We want the government to stop giving licences to development firms. If we lose our forest, it means we lose our lives.”

Three or four companies were already working in the forest and villagers had information that 30 more firms, including mining companies, had been granted licences to work in Prey Lang, Seng Sok Heng said.

Chhun Chhorn, Kompong Thom provincial governor, said he did not know anything about the gathering or the government sub-decree.

“Prey Lang is governed at a national level. We just provide security for the villagers if there is protesting in order to avoid violence,” he said.

In November, about 300 villagers from surrounding provinces patrolled the forest for a week to stop illegal logging, before gathering at the office of Vietnamese rubber company CRCK to try to negotiate with the owner.

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