PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Nearly 100 activists, students and politicians gathered here to discuss ways to curb illegal logging in Prey Lang forest, often considered Cambodia’s largest relatively intact forest.
The meeting comes after activists and students were blocked by Stung Treng provincial authorities two weeks ago from touring the part of what is sometimes called “Cambodia’s Amazon.” They charge that local officials barred them in order to cover up illegal logging.
Villagers who live in the forest traveled to Phnom Penh to denounce what they called an escalation of deforestation.
“Private companies are cutting down trees in the forest and many outsiders from other provinces also have come to cut down the forest,” said Tith Vichey, a villager from Preah Vihear province and a keynote speaker at the meeting.
The forest is under serious threat, critics say, because of rampant illegal logging and deforestation by private companies holding economic land concessions from the government.
Stretching over 3,600 square kilometers and four provinces, Prey Lang forest shelters 20 endangered wildlife species, and 200,000 members of ethnic minority groups.
Of interest to loggers, it also holds exotic woods like rosewood, which is valued in China for hardwood furniture.
Prey Lang is one of Southeast Asia’s last remaining lowland evergreen forests.
The student groups organized tours of the forest after villagers and NGOs started filing complaints about the increasing number of trees being illegally logged.
Kem Ley, founder of new political movement Khmer for Khmer, led one of the blocked student groups to the forest. According to Mr. Ley, the tour’s aim was to encourage students to learn about the forest and how to preserve it.
“It was to be social campaign among students, monks and the public to remain aware about Prey Lang,” Mr. Ley said of the grass roots movement.
Save the Forest Movement Growing
Civil society groups and NGOs are united in taking action at this critical time, said Tek Vannara, executive director of NGO Forum Cambodia.
“We’ve organized this meeting for civil society groups and local villagers to take coordinated action to protect Prey Lang forest,” he said.
“We’re trying to work closely with the government to eradicate illegal logging in the area, and have also urged them to increase law enforcement and the monitoring of companies that were granted land concessions in the area,” he added.
Students from Phnom Penh traveled to Prey Lang forest earlier this month, where illegal logging threatens the forest. KT Photo: Chea Vannak