Communities across the country pray for Prey Lang forest and management of Cambodia’s land as authorities clamp down on leaflet distribution in Phnom Penh
Today, 18 August 2011, 146 communities around Cambodia prepared to take part in the Prey Lang Network’s “Pray long for Prey Lang” celebration. In Phnom Penh, 200 individuals – including members of the Prey Lang network dressed as “avatars”, painted in green wearing hats made from leaves, and supporters – gathered at Preah Ang Dang Keu Shrine to pray for better management of Cambodia’s land and natural resources and, particularly, for the preservation of Prey Lang forest and the ways of life of the hundreds of thousands of the forests inhabitants.
After concluding their prayers at Preah Ang Dang Keu Shrine, the community members dispersed to 9 locations throughout the city to distribute leaflets in order to inform ordinary citizens about ongoing deforestation at Prey Lang. The event was marred by a crackdown on the peaceful activities of the community members, with as many as 106 individuals briefly detained and questioned. All the individuals detained have since been released.
The nationwide scale of the event, with events taking place in as many as 14 provinces, is unprecedented in Cambodia. The participating communities were or are themselves involved in land conflicts. While the spearhead issue of the event was the intense ongoing exploitation and deforestation of Prey Lang forest, participants prayed for better management of all of Cambodia’s land and natural resources and for the cases affecting them directly. Information about events taking place in other parts of the country is currently being collected by the Prey Lang Network and will be shared through social media platforms.
Prey Lang forest is the last large primary forest on the Indochinese peninsula and the source of livelihood for around 200,000 people, including a large portion of the country’s indigenous population. The forest is richly bio-diverse, home to 40 endangered plant and animal species and a primary watershed regulating water and sediment flow to the Tonle Sap Basin. The forest is not only essential for the Kingdom’s food and water security but, with among the highest carbon sequestration values in the region, is a powerhouse for fighting global warming.
Prime Minister Hun Sen stated publicly in February 2011 that Cambodia’s forests must be protected in order to reduce global warming while Cambodia’s Forest Administration identified Prey Lang as an important area for conservation. This notwithstanding, developments around the forest have accelerated markedly recently with concessionaires clearing forest areas in order to create rubber plantations.
The following are quotes from members of the Prey Lang Network and other communities as well as a representative of the Community Peace-building Network:
- Minh Ny from Prey Lang, stated: “Through this peaceful event I hope that we save Prey Lang for the next generation and make the media and public know about the importance of the forest to the lives of the residents who live within it and to the environment more generally.”
- Kem Sokhorn from Prey Lang, stated: “I look at the experience of Boeung Kak lake who struggled strongly and peacefully and with passion to get land back and believe this to be an excellent example for the people of Prey Lang to follow.”
- Heng Mom, from Boeung Kak Lake offered her support for the event, stating: “The Boeung Kak Lake residents support this campaign as natural resources are vital not just to Cambodian’s but to people across the world. Protecting Prey Lang is not just important to a few but rather it is significant in protecting the environment for our children. I share with members of the Prey Lang community the experience of the residents of Boeung Kak Lake: that advocacy is continually a struggle and everyone should be ready to face all situations”.
- Phok Hong, an indigenous Kuy from Prey Lang, stated: “If I lose Prey Lang, I lose my life. Everyday I worry about losing Prey Lang. I worry that the land broker and the company will destroy it and I will lose my way of life. If we lose Prey Lang we lose the forest, the herbal remedies, the wild life and most importantly the indigenous traditions that have been passed down through many generations of our ancestors. Today I will pray for the world to appreciate the importance of Prey Lang and help us put and end to this conflict”.
- Vong Phan, an indigenous Kuy from Prey Lang stated: “The rubber plantations give only profits to wealthy individuals but if we protect Prey Lang forest it will give, not only to the ethnic Kuy people but also to everyone”.
- Seng Sokheng a representative of the Community Peace-building Network, commented: “The scale of this event is unprecedented and yet it does not fully reflect the gravity of the threat against Prey Lang. Though all land conflicts can destroy lives those that relate to the destruction of natural resources and forest areas create environmental changes that will affect generations. It is great to see communities uniting together against injustices relating to land and, particularly, to the management of our natural resources.”
The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) sent out this press release on behalf of the Prey Lang Network in solidarity with other participating communities throughout the country, on August 18. For further information, please contact Sokheng Seng on tel: 092324668 or email: email@example.com