Despite a minor car crash on the way to Preah Vihear yesterday, more than 100 environmental activist monks will today march into Prey Lang forest to ordain trees and promote environmental awareness.
But Buntenh, founder of the Independent Monk Network for Social Justice, and his caravan faced a setback yesterday following the accident but said that he would go ahead with the march and the ordination ceremony in order to help publicise issues facing the forest and the communities dependent on its resources.
“People don’t really think of deforestation,” he said. “I started this campaign because the monks can influence the people. Once this happens, people will take part in the protection process.”
Days earlier, on Tuesday, a biodiversity assessment for the Forestry Administration conducted by Conservation International and Winrock International, and sponsored by USAID, noted that Prey Lang is the “largest lowland evergreen forest in Cambodia, and possibly the most expansive in the Indo-Burma region”.
The forest stretches across four provinces – Kratie, Kampong Thom, Stung Treng and Preah Vihear – and contains almost 1,000 plant and animal species, many of which are threatened.
It is also a main support system for the roughly 250,000 people who reside near it.
Still, the report says, “illegal logging is evident throughout the landscape, [and] occurring at alarming rate”.
Buntenh added that, in addition to being an environmental necessity, he sees conservation activism in the forest area as a religious duty.
“People say they are Buddhist, but they are not really taking the Buddha’s teachings into practice,” he said.
“The Buddha doesn’t allow people to deforest, but now we see that the entire country is being deforested.”
An independent youth who is set to participate in the march said the monks would hopefully inspire locals to become more engaged in conservation efforts.
“Most Cambodians respect monks. So when monks conduct blessings, they dare not to cut down the trees,” he said.
He added that the campaign was likely to ruffle some feathers in the provincial government, as similar events have in the past.
In May, a student group led by Kem Ley, a social activist and founder of the Khmer for Khmer group, was denied entrance into the forest, allegedly due to the group inspiring protests from families in Stung Treng.