Cambodian Activists, Monks Urge Lawmakers to Save Endangered Forest

cambodia-prey-lang-activists-chainsaws-july-2015.jpeg Activists carry confiscated chainsaws as part of a protest in front of Forestry Administration office in Phnom Penh, July 6, 2015.

Around 100 activists, including Buddhist monks, gathered in front of Cambodia’s parliament Monday to demand that lawmakers and the country’s Forestry Administration take action against illegal logging in endangered Prey Lang forest.

The activists carried petitions calling for an intervention in the destruction of the forest, which extends across five northern provinces, but neither the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) nor the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) sent lawmakers to accept them, despite earlier assurances.

But Buntenh, leader of the Independent Monks Network for Social Justice, expressed frustration to RFA’s Khmer Service over the lawmakers’ failure to act, and said activists were running out of time to protect the forest.

“The [National] Assembly (parliament) is too busy and say they don’t have time to accept our petitions,” he said.

“If we look at the scope of illegal logging today, the entire Prey Lang forest will not last beyond the year 2015. Right now, the last hope for us is that it’s rainy season and it’s difficult for loggers to transport timber from the forest.”

A second monk echoed But Buntenh’s concerns while addressing the activists with a megaphone in front of the National Assembly building.

“We are working hard against all odds to protect the forest, but no lawmaker dares to accept our petitions,” the monk said.

“Only the poor people [who rely on the forest for their livelihood] understand our situation and our respect for the country’s natural resources.”

The Phnom Penh Post quoted monk Heng Raksmey, a representative of Sre Veal village in Preah Vihear province, as saying that massive logging of the forest in his community continued unabated almost every day.

As part of Monday’s demonstration, which also saw the activists march to the office of Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Forestry Administration, monks displayed five chainsaws they said had been confiscated from illegal loggers in Prey Lang.

Security forces monitored the group, but did not obstruct their protest.

Endangered forest

Prey Lang is one of Southeast Asia’s last remaining lowland evergreen woodlands and covers an estimated 1,390 square miles (3,600 kilometers) of land within northern Cambodia’s Kampong Thom, Preah Vihear, Kampong Cham, Kratie and Stung Treng provinces.

Thousands of hectares (one hectare = 2.5 acres) of the forest—which is home to an estimated 200,000 members of ethnic minorities—have been granted as concessions to private companies, many of which have been accused of illegal logging.

Activists have previously championed conservation in Prey Lang by conducting campaigns while wearing dress and makeup inspired by the blockbuster movie "Avatar," which depicts the destruction of a forest on an alien world and its inhabitants' bloody fight to protect their home from miners.

Most of the wood from Prey Lang is smuggled into China and Vietnam, where it is made into furniture and exported worldwide, some environmental groups have charged.

Forestry Administration officials declined to comment about allegations of illegal logging in Prey Lang when contacted by the Phnom Penh Post.

Reported by Prach Chev for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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