PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – About 100 Buddhist monks marched in the capital Monday to protest the cutting of trees in Prey Lang forest, a green belt that still covers much of central Cambodia.
Going from one government building to another, they were led by the Venerable But Buntenh, a veteran protester who leads the Independent Monk Network for Social Justice.
The march drew Buddhist monks from different provinces around the country. Several had joined a march Friday in a section of Prey Lang forest.
“I decided to take part in the march because I saw an astonishing loss of forest in the area,” said one such monk, Thy Sopheak. “Forest means life. If there is no forest, there will be natural disasters such as storm and flood.”
Asked about criticism that monks should not join protests, he responded: “They should, because they are also citizens of this country.”
In a section of the Prey Lang forest, the monks assessed the condition of the forest, “ordained” threatened trees, and confiscated chainsaws.
“The monks descended on Prey Lang and found tree-cutting apparatus used by the community residents,” the Venerable Buntenh told reporters. “All of that equipment found at the scene does not belong to the residents, but to the private companies who hire them to cut trees on a wage of 100,000 riel per cubic meter.”
After gathering in front of the Council for the Development of Cambodia, they marched to the Forestry Administration. There, they spotted an official coming out of the building and tried to present him a petition. However, he snatched it brusquely. “It is cheap that the administration official comes and snatches the petition like a thief,” the Venerable Buntenh said into a microphone, drawing cheers from the monks and their supporters.
To make up for the rude gesture, three Forestry Administration officials then came outside, accepted the petition from the Venerable Buntenh and promised to deliver the petition to their leaders.
The Forestry Administration of Cambodia could not be reached for comment. One official said that he could not say anything since he was only assigned to receive the petition.
The Venerable Buntenh was optimistic. “We hope the government will change their behavior, as there are a lot of monks, and all of those monks have a lot of followers,” he said. “If they want to remain in power, they should accept the petition and implement it.”
The 100-monk march then made its way to the offices of Prime Minister Hun Sen around 2 pm. But nobody came out to accept the petition.
The march’s final stop was at the National Assembly. There no one, neither ruling party nor opposition party lawmakers, came out to collect the petition.
“Before, the opposition was a bit more reliable,” the Venerable Buntenh said. “But just one year into the government, and they are as tricky.”
Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, later told Khmer Times that he had no knowledge of the march or of any communication with the monks.
“We have been working on this issue for 20 years,” he said referring to deforestation. “There is no reason why we would refuse to receive the petition.”