At least 600 people crowded into Preah Vihear public forum with local authorities yesterday to express concerns about land concessions affecting Prey Lang forest and the surrounding communities. Their dominant message was a call to rescind the concessions and give Prey Lang protected status under a cooperative model that would include communities in the sustainable management of the forest. In a continuation of the “avatar” theme that they used last week in a rally in Phnom Penh, many participants painted their faces, dressed in green, or wore leaf hats to identify themselves as forest defenders. And they called on the world to stand with them.
The guest panel included Preah Vihear’s deputy provincial governor and other local officials, parliamentarians from the Sam Raingsey, Human Rights and Norodom Ranariddh parties, and the director of a the National Resources Protection Group (NRPG), a non-profit environmental organization.
Participants raised concerns with deforestation in Prey Lang in both primary forest and the surrounding buffer areas of community use forest, challenging a model of development that they say is depriving them of livelihoods while also destructing an ecosystem vital to Cambodia’s environmental sustainability. They also described human rights violations, questioning the roles and responsibilities of police and military personnel who they claim have intimidated and threatened local communities and activists. They appealed to the Cambodian government to save the forest and called on Cambodian and global citizens to join their cause.
Provincial and local authorities persisted in their own claims that only degraded forest had been cleared and that communities were fairly compensated. This was met by quick refutation of community members who said that they had neither been consulted nor compensated. They used pictures to demonstrate that the denseness of the forest and size of trees being cut.
Although the forum was intended to close by noon, it continued well into the afternoon to accommodate the many people who wanted to speak. When the district governor’s closing comments went over-time, the forum moderator cut her short. She abruptly left the meeting, claiming that the organizers were biased against the government.
The forum, which was organized by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights in cooperation with the Prey Lang Network and local NGOs, will be broadcast on eight radio channels, via Radio Free Asia, Radio France Press, and Voice of Democracy programs beginning on June 2.
For news stories on this public forum, click on the links below.