Civil society groups and grassroots organizations condemned the Environment Ministry’s decision to block Prey Lang community members, monks and human rights monitors from the annual tree blessing ceremony last week, calling the restriction “indefensible.”
More than 100 groups and communities released a statement on Tuesday saying they were “appalled” and “outraged” at the blocking of the tree blessing ceremony in the Prey Lang forest, alleging that the Ministry of Environment did not have proper legal justification for the restriction. Groups were congregating at the forest from Preah Vihear, Stung Treng, Kratie and Kampong Thom.
“The Ministry of Environment’s use of masked armed rangers to prevent members of the Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN) from conducting an annual tree-blessing ceremony in the forest is an indefensible restriction on the community’s freedom of movement and harms conservation efforts in the forest,” the statement reads.
The Ministry of Environment over the weekend had claimed that the PLCN was “unregistered” under the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO) and questioned the group’s monitoring of the protected area, alleging they produced “data without appropriate scientific basis.”
“Using LANGO to prevent community members from blessing trees in a protected forest again demonstrates how harmful the legislation is in its current form,” the statement reads.
Ministry of Environment spokesperson Neth Pheaktra said on Tuesday the PLCN was “anarchical” and dishonest in their work, again reiterating that the community was not registered.
"We cooperate only with legally registered communities and CSOs. Prey Lang Community Network is in the form of NGOs, but it has not registered yet though Ministry of Environment has advised many times,” he said on Tuesday.
The statement pointed out that there was no documentation to show that people were restricted from entering the protected area, and that the protected area had not been zoned. This meant that no core zone had been created, which would have required prior permission to enter.
“We have not seen any documents saying there is a core protected area in Prey Lang,” said Licadho monitoring manager Am Sam Ath.
Sok Phloak, 34, a representative from Prey Lang in Kampong Thom province, said he was surprised the ministry prevented the ceremony this year.
“They asked for permission letter from the high officials,” he said. “We do this every year and there is no problem.”