More than 100 villagers defied police attempts yesterday to break up a praying ceremony they held at Angkor Wat to seek divine help in their battle to stop the government from allowing private companies to destroy the protected Prey Lang forest.
Svay Phoeun, a member of the Prey Lang network, which advocates for the protection of the forest, said officers from the Apsara Authority and police tried but failed to stop them from holding their ceremony at Bayon temple in the Angkor Wat complex.
“We still continued even though the police tried to block us, because what we did was not wrong,” he said.
The 360,000 hectare forest – Cambodia’s largest, spanning six districts in the provinces of Preah Vihear, Kratie, Stung Treng and Kampong Thom – is under threat from 33 separate economic land concessions that have been granted to private companies.
Duong Sovanara, a member of the Prey Lang network, said the group had chosen the Bayon Temple for their ceremony for two reasons – because it was a magic site and because it was somewhere they could draw the attention of passing tourists to the destruction of the forest.
“We would like to ask the government to find a quick resolution to prevent [the destruction of] Prey Lang, otherwise it will be destroyed quickly by private companies,” he said.
Chea Sophat, cultural heritage police chief in Siem Reap province, said he had refused to allow the villagers to celebrate their praying ceremony because they had not received official permission.
“We will allow them to do their praying party after we get permission from the director general of Apsara Authority,” he said.
Seng Sokheng, a representative of the Community Peace Building Network, said villagers had secured such permission before about 30 police officers occupied their ceremony.
“What the authority did is illegal in Cambodian law, because they did not allow villagers to celebrate the Buddha ceremony,” he said.
“It also a violation of human rights.”
Bun Narith, director general of Apsara, could not be reached for comment.