Community patrollers of the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary say local authorities are pushing them to sign contracts that they cannot patrol the forest, a year after they were banned from activities to monitor the protected area.
The Prey Lang Community Network, which has chapters in Prey Lang’s four provinces, made requests last week to hold a tree-blessing ceremony on Thursday and Friday. The requests were denied, and members were summoned to sign a contract to formally end their activities in the forest, activists said.
Last year, authorities prevented the activists from holding the annual ceremony in the forest, and banned them from continuing their patrols.
Khem Sokhy, representative for the group in Preah Vihear province, said he had agreed not to hold the ceremony, but would not sign a contract that activists cannot patrol the forest.
“This act is a suppression of the rights of the people who love nature to protect the forest,” Sokhy said.
The contract said the group’s members would be banned from entering the forest as they were not a registered organization. It stipulated that any group entering the Prey Lang area must receive prior authorization from authorities.
Hoeun Sopheap, president of the network and a member in Kampong Thom, said the province’s members had also refused to sign the contract on Tuesday.
“If we made a contract with them, we would be abandoning our rights,” Sopheap said. “It is inconsistent with the Constitution and other laws.”
Touch Sophy, chief of Preah Vihear’s Rovieng district environment office, said authorities weren’t forcing the contract on the community network.
The group’s members had been called in to be informed that authorities had rejected their request to hold this week’s ceremony.
“The contract was drafted and read out to them. If they are not satisfied with it, they can refuse,” Sophy said.
Heng Kimhong, head of research and advocacy at the Cambodian Youth Network, which works with the Prey Lang Community Network, said illegal logging was ongoing in the protected area, and the ban on community patrols was exacerbating the situation.
Environmentalist Ouch Leng and four other activists were earlier this month arrested by Kratie provincial authorities while monitoring forestry crimes without official permission.
(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)