Axing of Sacred Trees Pushes Activists to Edge

Outraged farmers and community forestry activists in Pursat and Kampong Chhnang prov­inces have threatened to hold violent demonstrations against Phea­pimex Co Ltd after the company allegedly cut 300 trees that had been blessed by Buddhist monks.

More than 1,000 villagers in the two provinces held a ceremony on Jan 5 in which monks blessed and hung saffron-colored robes from hundreds of trees so they would not be cut.

Less than three days later, Phea­pimex started cutting the trees, said community representative Kuch Veng.

“I have tried to persuade the villagers in Krakor district (in Pur­sat) to calm down,” he said, “but they have threatened to hold violent demonstrations after several peaceful…pro­tests were fruitless.”

Villagers are also upset that police have not found those res­pon­sible for a grenade attack that wounded eight people during a peaceful protest on Nov 13, farm­er Keo Sito said. The villagers were sleeping in hammocks while protesting against the clearing of forest for a paper plantation in Angsar Chambak commune.

“I am very clear that police can identify those attackers but police re­fuse to arrest them,” Keo Sito said. Police have maintained they are continuing their investigation and deny any knowledge of those res­ponsible.

Krakor district police Chief Bin Van­­na warned the villagers against violent de­mon­strations, saying it is illegal and police will have the right to in­tercede to keep order and guard national security.

“Police are investigating the gre­nade attack,” he said. “Vil­lagers should think again about holding violent demonstrations be­cause it will not be to their ad­vantage.”

Kuch Veng said demonstrations, which will be held soon, are the only option left for villagers to tell Prime Minister Hun Sen that his poverty reduction program in­volving granting companies land concessions is only making the average person poorer.

“I want to inform Samdech Hun Sen that the forestry concession with Pheapimex is not an ac­ceptable strategy to reduce poverty, but is pushing poor people further into poverty,” he said.


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