A group of forestry activists accompanied by monks held a Buddhist ceremony in hopes of protecting Prey Lang forest in Cambodia’s central plains. The forest has been ravaged by deforestation caused by illegal logging, with much of the illicit timber smuggled outside the country.
During the ceremony monks and activists wrapped Buddhist yellow clothes around trees under the belief that the loggers, who may themselves be Buddhists, would think twice about cutting down trees in traditional garb.
Participants in the ceremony told RFA’s Khmer Service that they saw many large trees had been cut down.
One monk, the Venerable Oun Long, led a group of villagers to patrol the area and clothe the trees last weekend. He said the group confiscated abandoned wood and chainsaws. They also detained loggers they found on patrol. He said the group clothed at least 40 trees.
He said he hoped that this ceremony would encourage youth to get more involved in the fight for the forest, noting that many of the activists that attended the ceremony were quite young.
“Youth have sacrificed their time and energy to protect the trees. In the future they will invite their friends [to do the same,] he said.
But he acknowledged that one ceremony is not enough to deter the loggers.
“After the ceremony, forest crime will still continue,” said the Venerable Oun Long.
He said the detained loggers were set free after being advised not to further engage in illegal logging.
Another activist said the Buddhist ceremony is aimed at praying for the forest’s existence in the future, so that indigenous identity can be preserved.
Srey Thei, a representative from the Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN), a grassroots movement working to preserve the forest, said that illegal logging is difficult to combat because loggers operate late night and they also have homemade weapons.
She added that the authorities don’t cooperate with activists in their efforts to stop illegal logging.
“We are still concerned because we can’t patrol the entire forest,” she said.
According to a recent report, the 36,000 hectare forest is now 40 percent smaller than it once was.
Cambodia has long endured the rampant smuggling of logs and timber—often with the complicity of local authorities—to neighbors such as China and Vietnam, where the wood is used to make high-end furniture.
In May last year, a report by the U.K.-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) said that around 300,000 cubic meters (10,594,400 cubic feet) of timber—including endangered rosewood—had been smuggled out of protected areas in Cambodia to Vietnam with the help of local authorities through some U.S. $13 million paid in bribes between November 2016 and March 2017.
According to the NASA Earth Observatory website, between 2001 and 2014 Cambodia lost a total of 1.44 million hectares (5,560 square miles) of forest—one of the world’s fastest rates of deforestation.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.