A GROUP of soldiers returned to their former
battlefield in the Kirirom National Park recently, not to reminisce about the
war, but to view the area through different eyes.
Soldiers become environmentalists in Kirirom
"This place was once a
battlefield - we came here to fight. But now we come here to enjoy nature," said
Oum Sok, Chief of Training for at Kampong Speu's Number Three military school,
Sok was just one of 32 soldiers attending an environmental training
course in Kirirom organized by a local environmental NGO, Mlup Baitong (Green
Shadow), earlier this month.
The soldiers were divided into four groups
and led through the hills of Kirirom - once a favorite holiday spot for King
Sihanouk - by rangers who helped them identify some of the park's 168 bird
species, as well as its plants and wildlife.
Soun Sokhon, a guerrilla
warfare trainer, said it was a terrible shame that war had led to the
destruction of so much of Cambodia's nature.
Most Cambodians have heard
the word "environment", but they don't know what it means, he said.
now we understand its meaning and its importance. If we protect the forests then
they will protect us from flooding and droughts, and provide good habitats for
wildlife. With the war over, soldiers must now fight to defend nature," he
During the hike a ranger asked the soldiers if they could explain
what activities damage nature. One soldier, starting to catch on, picked up a
piece of plastic rubbish left by a visitor and said: "This affects the
At the end of the trip there was a group discussion about
sustainable forest use and the causes of environmental degradation.
soldier noted that much of the park's destruction is caused by illegal
"The people who take the land in the park are
high-ranking Government officials who do not respect the law," he
Sok Tina, a Mlup Baitong trainer, said the Kampong Speu environment
suffers from wildlife poaching and illegal logging.
Tina said now that
fighting has ended, soldiers have a duty to protect the environment as well as
develop the country.
"We expect our environment will improve because
people are now concerned about the loss of nature and hate illegal logging." he
"People now understand that damage to the environment is damage to
themselves. I've seen some good results from this course, but today I really
felt like they had become environmentalists."
The trainer said this was
only the second time a group of military commanders have visited the park as
When a group from Pich Nil NCO School visited, one soldier
noted with concern that out of the 163 bird species documented in the park, only
two or three had been spotted that day.
The soldier asked the rangers to
enforce anti-hunting regulations more strictly. But Park Director Nil Tun said
the soldiers must help as well by controlling illegal sawmills on the borders of
Amanda Bradley, Mlup Baitong's coordinator, said, "At the
moment, we are dealing with a captive audience, but in the future, we'd like to
see the rangers attracting non-captive audiences as well, and making outreach
and environmental education a standard feature at the park."
Kirirom now receives over 10,000 visitors a year.