Activist monks hand-delivered five chainsaws confiscated by community activists to the Forestry Administration in Phnom Penh on Monday as part of a protest of illegal logging in the Prey Lang forest.
About one hundred monks took to the streets in opposition of the ongoing destruction of the northern forest, which spans hundreds of thousands of hectares across five provinces and serves as a vital watershed to the Tonle Sap river system.
Venerable Heng Raksmey, a representative of Sre Veal village in Preah Vihear province, said massive logging of the forest in his community continued unabated almost every day.
“Because of the logging of the forest without the rule of law, our weather has changed so much lately - like having strong storms, and then in the rainy season, no rain,” he said.
Monks march to the Forestry Administration with confiscated chainsaws and a petition
Joining the community activists were members of the Independent Monks Network for Social Justice, whose leader Venerable But Buntenh has been singled out by Prime Minister Hun Sen recently as a voice of dissent who should join the opposition in the much-heralded “culture of dialogue”.
“Those Forestry Administration officers are the dollar officers, as they don't care about the forest or Prey Lang and let the 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 the officer to take my petition?”
Thousands of hectares of land in Prey Lang has been granted as economic land concessions to private companies, many of which have been accused of conducting illegal logging.
Conservationists have long tried to have the area declared a protected area, while several small community activist groups frequently confront concessionaires during their patrols of Prey Lang.
Security forces did not obstruct the protestors on Monday morning, who plan to continue on to the National Assembly and the Prime Minister's house this afternoon.
Forestry Administration officials declined to comment.