PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – A move by local authorities to bar visitors from a part of Prey Lang forest in Stung Treng province forced Phnom Penh students to visit other parts of the eastern forest, a green landscape pock marked by illegal logging.
“We were not allowed to visit Prey Lang in Stung Treng,” said Bin Yan, a Pannasastra University sophomore and a member of the Kuy ethnic minority. “But we still made our field trip to other parts of Prey Lang in other provinces.”
It is believed that local officials barred the group of 25 students from the forest in Stung Treng province to cover up illegal logging, which reportedly is rising. Local residents have denounced the growing number of trees lost and had charged that local authorities look the other way.
Prey Lang, sometimes called “Cambodia’s Amazon,” is one of Southeast Asia’s last remaining lowland evergreen forests. It stretches over the four provinces of Kampong Thom, Preah Vihear, Stung Treng and Kratie and shelters 20 endangered wildlife species, 200,000 members of ethnic minorities and valuable exotic wood like rosewood within its 3,600 square miles.
The forest’s integrity is threatened by illegal logging and by private companies holding economic land concessions from the government.
Student Oak Sereyroth said she joined the field trip because she wanted to see if the forest is really as endangered as claimed on social media. It was a disappointing day for her, however, as she did not see many big, old growth trees or much wildlife.
“Prey Lang is very important, so I want to see the local people join in to protect it,” she said.
Ms. Sereyroth said it is important for the younger generation to “learn and join together in preserving Prey Lang.” Her fellow student, Mr. Yan, shared similar sentiments. “The modern generation must visit Prey Lang and educate local people about the importance of the forest,” he said. “It is our affair to protect the forest.”
Sar Sengleang, the village chief of Archen in Kratie province, accompanied the group. He said he was happy to see students from Phnom Penh visit his homeland and try to preserve it.
Students from Phnom Penh travel to Prey Lang forest, where illegal logging is threatening the forest’s ecosystem. KT Photo: Chea Vannak