Authorities over the weekend blocked the Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN) from holding a tree ordination ceremony in the Prey Lang protected forest area across four provinces, citing its failure to obtain permission to hold the event.
The PLCN had organised a two-day ceremony in the area but were unable to see it through as police forces and environmental officials prevented participants, including students and monks who had travelled from Phnom Penh, from attending.
Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra on Saturday sent a message to PLCN warning that it had not gained proper permission to enter the protected area and hold the event.
He said the attempt to hold it nonetheless, with the full knowledge that their request to do so was denied by the ministry and local authorities, was akin to an illegal act under the pretext of “unbridled” rights and freedom.
“Where PLCN intends to go is an area to be conserved and protected, especially to avoid affecting the wild animals and the ecological system in that area.
“Rangers from the Ministry of Environment have been fulfilling their mission to protect forests and wild animals in the Prey Lang area day and night.
“They have patrolled, stopped and cracked down on offences that happen in the conservation area. They removed snares that offenders secretly laid to catch wild animals illegally,” he said.
Pheaktra said organisations such as Equitable Cambodia, Peace Bridges Organisation and Danmission have no jurisdiction in the area and failed to sign a memorandum with the ministry.
He said they must halt their activities in the conservation area and stop supporting the community network as it went against the law.
“If these organisations want to collaborate and join with the Ministry of Environment in conservation work, they are welcome.
“But they should request formally via legal procedures rather than working secretly and beyond their jurisdiction. Their activities call into question their honesty in implementing their work,” he said.
Pheaktra said the ministry had already carried out a tree ordination ceremony in the area, as well as a camping event, from February 14-15.
More than 500 participants attended the programme, but the organisations initiated a separate programme in breach of the law, he noted.
A PLCN press release said the ceremony was aimed at expressing gratitude for the forest and to raise awareness to make sure that Prey Lang forest is preserved.
It said it had hoped the ceremony would strengthen collaboration with the government to protect natural resources and biodiversity in the area.
Human rights NGO Licadho, which PLCN said was invited to join the event, issued a statement on Friday noting it had been blocked from doing so.
It said authorities from the ministry and local officials, some of whom were armed with guns, told participants in four provinces to gain permission from senior leadership in order to enter the forest and to produce a formal permission letter.
The statement said permission should not be required to take part in the protection of natural resources.