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Rally allowed, but contained

Environmental activists dressed in animal costumes sit on the road near the Russian Embassy in Phnom Penh
Environmental activists dressed in animal costumes sit on the road near the Russian Embassy in Phnom Penh during a World Environment Day event. Heng Chivoan

Rally allowed, but contained

Hundreds of environmental activists donning facepaint and animal costumes were met with a police blockade when they gathered in Phnom Penh yesterday to mark World Environment Day.

Dressed as a Siamese crocodile, 31-year-old Thai Kini said there was a serious message behind the costume.

“I pretend I am a Siamese crocodile, because I want to protect the natural resources such as forests and wildlife,” he said.

Tim Malay, director of the Cambodia Youth Network (CYN), said his group of more than 200 activists had been banned from marching from the Ministry of Environment to the Ministry of Agriculture. Instead they were permitted to hold an event outside the Russian Embassy.

When activists attempted to move out of the permitted area, they were blocked by forces, including Chamkarmon district security guards. But after a standoff, 10 activists were permitted to deliver petitions to the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Chinese and Vietnamese embassies.

“We delivered the petitions to the Vietnamese Embassy and Chinese Embassy, because these two countries invest a lot in our country and their investment impacts on our natural resources,”
Malay said.

Following the event, Licadho director Naly Pilorge condemned the interference of the authorities.

An environmental activist gets a tree painted on his face as part of World Environment Day yesterday in Phnom Penh
An environmental activist gets a tree painted on his face as part of World Environment Day yesterday in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

“There can be nothing that justifies intimidating those taking part in public activities which promote the protection of natural resources to secure a better future for everyone,” she said.

The spokesman for the Environment Ministry, Sao Sopheap, told the Post that “with or without a petition, [the government and Ministry of Environment] will continue efforts to stop all kinds of illegal activities [that harm the environment].”

In Kep province, nearly 1,000 people showed up for an annual government-organised event, he said.

“We are fully aware of the importance of environmental sustainability … that’s why we organise every year.”

But Vann Sophath, land reform coordinator for the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said “widespread deforestation due to illegal logging” continues to take place “without intervention from the relevant authorities”.

In his own address, Prime Minister Hun Sen said the government is committed to meeting the Millennium Development Goals, which require the country to meet a target of 60 per cent forest cover by 2015.

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