About 400 community activists on Thursday set out on a five-day patrol of Cambodia’s sprawling— and unprotected—Prey Long forest to root out illegal loggers and the illicit clearing of the area’s commercial farms, making for the largest patrol by the Prey Long Community Network in more than a year.
The network, a loose association of communities across four provinces, has been staging patrols of 650,000-hectare Prey Long for the past several years to combat what they believe to be local authorities’ indifference toward—or complicity in—the rampant clearing of one of the largest lowland evergreen forests in the region.
Seng Sokheng, a network coordinator, said four groups of about 100 people each headed into Prey Long on Thursday morning in Kompong Thom, Kratie, Preah Vihear and Stung Treng provinces to look for new caches of timber felled either by illegal loggers or plantation workers clearing forest beyond the borders of commercial concessions.
“We are holding a large-scale campaign because we don’t want to see more deforestation,” Mr. Sokheng said.
The coordinator said he had already received reports from the groups of a 10-cubic-meter pile of logs in Stung Treng and a 20-cubic-meter pile in Kompong Thom. He had yet to hear from the other two groups.
“After we finish the campaign, we will collect all the evidence of logging and then we will file complaints with the National Assembly, the Agriculture Ministry and the provincial courts,” he said.
While the network regularly stages smaller patrols, this one appears to be the largest since December 2013, which also brought together about 400 people.
This time around, they are receiving help from members of the Independent Monk Network for Social Justice, a group of activist monks from pagodas around the country.
“This is our first time,” said But Buntenh, the monk network’s president. “We joined because the communities have been saying since 2011 that the trees are being lost. I want to know how many trees are left and find a way to protect them.”