On World Environment Day, a Call to Save Cambodia’s Forests

About 200 people celebrating World Environment Day on Wednesday gathered in front of the National Assembly to submit a petition asking the government to stop the destruction of Cambodia’s forests.

Wearing masks depicting cows, wild cats and owls, the crowd of for­estry community members and environmentalists accused the government of ne­glecting the forests by granting economic land concessions to firms that engage in illegal logging.

“Before, people went into the forest and were afraid of tigers, but now, they go into the forest and are afraid of the Okhna and that their companies will hurt them,” said Theng Savoeun, secretarial coordinator of the Coalition of Cambodian Farmers Com­munity, referring to the Cambodian honorific for a wealthy businessman.

A report released by the WWF last month said that Cambodia has lost almost a quarter of its forests in the past 40 years due to rapid development and China’s demand for timber.

State media also reported that Prime Minister Hun Sen said that 1.5 million hectares of forest cover has been used for economic land concessions, while there remains 9.5 million hectares of forest cover left in the country. However, since 1.2 million hectares of these concessions have been toward rubber plantation, Mr. Hun Sen said that these land grants, in fact, constitute forest cover.

Mr. Savoeun said that people had gathered again this year as a similar petition handed to the National Assembly in 2012 had been ignored. “The National Assembly failed to do their obligation, [which is] to stop deforestation,” he said, standing next to protesters holding signs that read “Live Green, Live Happy” and “Stop Deforestation.”

“We have observed that companies who receive economic land concessions are causing extreme destruction to the forest which impacts the environment,” Mr. Sa­voeun said.

Vorn Pao, who attended the demonstration, said that the key to stopping deforestation was to follow laws on conducting a proper environmental impact assessment (EIA) before large-scale agriculture projects are allowed to go ahead.

“We urge the government to review EIAs before giving land concessions to companies who cut down trees,” Mr. Pao said.

(Additional reporting by Denise Hruby)

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