On December 14, more than 200 Prey Lang Network and Friends of the Forest activists defied the efforts of Cambodian authorities to stop a prayer ceremony for Prey Lang in the renowned Angkor temple complex. The advocates peacefully insisted on their right to pray, citing the Cambodian Constitution. Eventually the group was allowed to form a procession around the Bayon temple and then pray at a nearby shrine.
At the heart of their prayers was a call for their leaders to exercise wisdom in the management of Cambodia’s environmental resources. They decried the alarming rate at which Cambodia is losing its forests and drew a parallel between modern Cambodia and ancient Angkor, once the largest and most advanced city in the world, which collapsed due to deforestation and related water problems. They called on Cambodia and the world to heed the lesson of Angkor and preserve Prey Lang forest, Indochina’s last large expanse of lowland evergreen forest and one of the most important watersheds remaining in Cambodia.
Heavy monitoring by authorities, including dozens of uniformed police, discouraged the participation of tourists. Even so, several tourists from a variety of countries took photos and even joined the praying, singing and dancing. The activists’ message was so persuasive that even some of the police and authorities applauded at the program’s conclusion.
Early in the event, police attempted to detain several people including prominent network members and monk-activist Venerable Loun Sovath. Other advocates protected them by forming barriers around them and protesting the disruption of their prayer. Police later attempted to pursue the monk, making inquiries around town, but he had already departed.