Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Sovantha under fire for comments at forestry forum



Sovantha under fire for comments at forestry forum

Thy Sovantha attends an environmental forum overseen by Prime Minister Hun Sen last Monday in Phnom Penh.
Thy Sovantha attends an environmental forum overseen by Prime Minister Hun Sen last Monday in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

Sovantha under fire for comments at forestry forum

Nearly a week after Thy Sovantha addressed Prime Minister Hun Sen during a rare audience with forest activists, videos circulating with her comments have the social media celebrity in hot water with those communities.

While numerous groups walked away disappointed with their lack of microphone time, Sovantha, who the premier dotingly referred to as “granddaughter”, spent nearly 30 minutes speaking, at one point insisting small-scale logging committed by villagers was now the real problem.

However, activists from the endangered Prey Lang forest along with environmentalists from Koh Kong and Kampong Thom provinces took umbrage with that over the weekend.

“The companies are the ones destroying forests in Cambodia,” said Koh Kong forest activist Chheuy Odom Reaksmey, son of slain environmentalist Chut Wutty and one of several to post angry rebuttals on Facebook.

“The big companies use a broker and the broker gives money to the villagers to cut down trees. If there were no companies, the villagers wouldn’t be logging.”

Meanwhile, Heoun Sopheap, a member of the Prey Lang Community Network’s steering committee, said that Sovantha’s comments were meant to bolster her image as a pro-government political figure.

“Now that she is supporting the ruling party, she is blaming the villagers for logging [instead of companies],” said Sopheap, adding that private companies often participate in illegal logging after being given land through government-sanctioned economic land concessions. “The companies are dangerous, not the villagers.”

But attendees at last week’s forum said Sovantha’s comments were broadly in line with those of others in the relatively small group allowed to speak, many of whom also blamed local communities for the problem.

“The dominant narrative at the forum was that local people are responsible for widespread illegal logging. I didn’t hear anyone mentioning the involvement of people within the elite and how corruption plays a significant role in the logging business,” said Ernst Jurgenson, Cambodia representative for NGO Danmission, who attended the event. “Evidence suggests that local people are hired by middle men. But no one discussed who hires the middle man,” he added.

Sovantha declined to comment but pointed reporters to her Facebook page. “I said residents are involved in logging . . . that local authorities are also involved in logging . . . and I suggested that the prime minister build a road to the Areng area so it can be used for tourism,” she wrote in a post yesterday. “The prime minister agreed with me, so people should praise me, not blame me for making a point.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Phnom Penh placed in two-week lockdown

    The government has decided to place Phnom Penh in lockdown for two weeks, effective April 14 midnight through April 28, as Cambodia continues to grapple with the ongoing community outbreak of Covid-19, which has seen no sign of subsiding. According to a directive signed by Prime Minister

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Hun Sen: Stay where you are, or else

    Prime Minister Hun Sen warned that the two-week lockdown of Phnom Penh and adjacent Kandal provincial town Takmao could be extended if people are not cooperative by staying home. “Now let me make this clear: stay in your home, village, and district and remain where

  • Vaccination open to foreigners in Cambodia

    The Ministry of Health on April 8 issued an announcement on Covid-19 vaccination for foreigners residing and working in Cambodia, directing the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and local authorities to register them. Health minister Mam Bun Heng, who is also head of the inter-ministerial

  • Ministry names types of business permitted amid lockdown

    The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training singled out 11 types of business that are permitted to operate during the lockdown of Phnom Penh and Takmao town, which run through April 28. Those include (1) food-processing enterprises and slaughterhouses; (2) providers of public services such as firefighting, utility and

  • Culture ministry: Take Tuol Sleng photos down, or else

    The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has told Irish photographer Matt Loughrey to take down the photos of Khmer Rouge victims at Tuol Sleng Genocidal Museum which he allegedly colourised and altered to show them smiling. The ministry said Loughrey's work is unacceptable, affecting