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Spirits of Prey Lang invoked

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More than 100 villagers from four provinces surrounding Prey Lang forest will gather there today with the intention of praying to spirits to protect the forest and reinstituting patrols in a bid to combat illegal logging operations, villagers said yesterday.

May Titthara/Phnom Penh Post
VIllagers from the Prey Lang forest dressed as avatars and gathered to protest last year in the capital.

Sem Sean, a representative of villagers from Kampong Thom province and a member of the Prey Lang Network, said villagers from Kampong Thom, Kratie, Stung Treng and Preah Vihear provinces had requested that the Ministry of Agriculture delay the approval of a sub-decree – drafted by the Council of Ministers – establishing the forest as a protected area.

“The authorities have not discussed the draft sub-decree with villagers yet,” he said, adding that officials should cooperate with villagers to combat illegal logging.

Prey Lang forest spans six districts in the provinces of Kratie, Stung Treng, Kampong Thom and Preah Vihear and covers an area of about 3,600 square kilometres.

In November, about 300 villagers from three of the four provinces around Prey Lang patrolled the forest for a week to crack down on illegal logging, before gathering at the office of Vietnamese rubber company CRCK in an attempt to negotiate with the company owner.Ouch Sam On, deputy governor of Kampong Thom province, said he was not aware of the plan for a prayer ceremony.

“If they just follow the religion it is their right, but if they do something [else] … we will take measures according to their activities,” he said.

Chut Wutty, director of the NGO Natural Resource Protection Group, said that villagers were grateful the sub-decree had been drafted, but were unaware of where the boundaries were for different districts covered by the forest.

“NGOs try to explain to them to understand in order to avoid disputes over economic land concessions [to private companies],”he said. “We have to talk first before issuing the sub-decree and affecting villagers’ land.”

Chan Sarun, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, could not be reached for comment.

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