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Soldiers now ecologists at old battlefield on Kirirom

Soldiers now ecologists at old battlefield on Kirirom

sodier.jpg
sodier.jpg

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.

"But

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

said.

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

environment,"

At the end of the trip there was a group discussion about

sustainable forest use and the causes of environmental degradation.

A

soldier noted that much of the park's destruction is caused by illegal

land-grabbers.

"The people who take the land in the park are

high-ranking Government officials who do not respect the law," he

said.

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

said.

"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

eco-tourists.

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

the park.

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."

Bradley said

Kirirom now receives over 10,000 visitors a year.

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