Environmental activist monks yesterday hand delivered five confiscated chainsaws to the Forestry Administration and National Assembly in Phnom Penh in protest against illegal logging and land exploitation in Prey Lang forest.
Unobstructed by security forces, about 100 monks took to the streets in opposition of the ongoing rampant destruction of the northern forest, which spans hundreds of thousands of hectares across four provinces and serves as a vital watershed to the Tonle Sap river system.
Venerable Heng Raksmey, a representative of Sre Veam village in Preah Vihear province, said massive logging of the forest “without the rule of law” continued unabated in his community almost every day.
Joining the community activists were members of the Independent Monks Network for Social Justice, who had over the previous weekend ordained trees and marched through the forest to bring awareness to deforestation issues in the area.
Network leader Venerable But Buntenh yesterday accused Prime Minister Hun Sen of failing to live by his own professed faith in the country’s newfound “culture of dialogue”.
“Those Forestry Administration officers are the ‘dollar officers’, as they don’t care about the forest or Prey Lang and let bad merchants continue to destroy the forest day by day,” Buntenh said at the protest.
“Prime Minister Hun Sen asked me to have a culture of dialogue, and that is why I came and want to talk nicely and send the petition to you [Hun Sen], but why don’t you come out and send an officer to grab my petition?”
The activists attempted to deliver the petition, which demands the government “study the scope and boundaries of Prey Lang forest explicitly and prepare the sub-decree on [protecting] Prey Lang as soon as possible”, to both the FA and parliament.
Buntenh said an official at the FA had simply tried to take the petition and “run away”, while he and the activists waited at the gates of the Assembly for someone to receive the document to no avail.
“I tried to call them, but nobody picked up,” he said, adding that even members of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party would not receive the petition.
Thousands of hectares of land in Prey Lang, declared a biodiversity hotspot in a recent assessment, have been granted as economic land concessions to private companies, many of which have been accused of conducting widespread illegal logging.
Conservationists have long tried to have the forest declared a protected area while several small community activist groups frequently confront concessionaires during patrols of Prey Lang.
Officials at the forestry administration declined to comment.
Additional reporting by May Titthara and Ethan Harfenist