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Gov’t awards medals for environmental activism

But Buntenh talks during an environmental forum overseen by Prime Minister Hun Sen last month at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh.
But Buntenh talks during an environmental forum overseen by Prime Minister Hun Sen last month at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

Gov’t awards medals for environmental activism

Outspoken activist monk But Buntenh and one-time opposition darling Thy Sovantha are among several individuals to be recognised with “honour medals” from the government for their environmental protection work, according to official documents.

According to sub-decrees dated August 12, which surfaced last week, the pair – along with three singers and another monk who work in the sector – will receive the awards.

Acknowledging that there may be a political motive behind the award, Buntenh, founder of the Independent Monk Network for Social Justice, said he would accept it, but proposed “conditions”.

These included finding justice for slain anti-government critic Kem Ley, releasing the security footage of his murder and ensuring the ceremony to mark 100 days since his death proceeds without interference.

Meanwhile, Sovantha – formerly a highly visible social media opposition activist who has in recent months launched a sustained crusade against the party’s deputy president – welcomed the medal. “This will encourage youth to work on environmental issues,” she said.

Sovantha is a newcomer to environmental work, and has been accused of using the issue to boost her own popularity.

Indeed, veteran environmental campaigner Ouch Leng, winner of the prestigious 2016 Goldman Environmental Prize, yesterday said he believed there were more deserving activists.

Long-time anti-logging campaigner Marcus Hardtke, meanwhile, called the awards “propaganda” but suggested that, given his outspokenness, Buntenh’s selection could be an effort “to appease their critics”.

Additional reporting by Shaun Turton

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