MORE than 100 villagers from four provinces gathered in Phnom Penh on Wednesday to draw attention to environmental degradation in Prey Lang forest, and to call for a halt to the granting of economic land concessions in the area.
Representatives of the group delivered petitions to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s cabinet and the Ministry of Agriculture requesting action to protect Prey Lang, which covers an area of about 5,250 square kilometres in Kratie, Stung Treng, Kampong Thom and Preah Vihear provinces.
“Villagers in four provinces depend on Prey Lang and its biodiversity to support their livelihoods and provide income and food for their families,” Sem Sean, a village representative from Kampong Thom province, said at a press conference on Wednesday.
He said the forest was threatened by the increasing number of companies that had been granted mining and logging concessions there.
“Because companies have cut down a lot of trees, cleared large areas of land and carried out exploration for mining purposes, there have been a number of negative effects such as flooding and drought,” he added.
Sem Sean said there are currently 33 private companies operating in Prey Lang forest: 12 in Preah Vihear, 11 in Kratie, eight in Stung Treng and two in Kampong Thom.
Some of the largest include South Korean mining firm Kenertec, Rattanak Stone Cambodia Development Co Ltd and the Pheapimex Group, which has been linked to a number of controversial logging and plantation projects across the country.
Phourk Hong, a Kuoy ethnic minority representative from Preah Vihear province, called for the concessions to be “cancelled” and for private companies to be banned from operating in the forest.
“We want Prey Lang to be preserved for our younger generations, so our people can continue our traditional ways of life,” she said.
Chheng Kimsun, director of the Forestry Administration at the Ministry of Agriculture, said he had not yet seen the villagers’ complaint. However, he defended the land-concession system and said that sometimes villagers were at fault in disputes.
“Before granting an economic land concession, the government conducts a survey to determine potential impacts on the area. The problems occur because some villagers are bad people and they put up fences around state land so they can try to get compensation,” he said.
In 2007, international watchdog Global Witness reported that Prey Lang was under threat from “large-scale illegal logging” operations with close links to senior government officials.