Environmental activists from Prey Lang forest have brought their concerns to Washington seeking international support to end deforestation in Cambodia.
Phouk Hong, a Kuy ethnic minority who led a three-member team, told VOA Khmer in an TV interview that concession companies have destroyed the forest and do more harm to local culture than good.
“The forest concession affects us a lot, especially those in the Prey Lang community,” said Phouk Hong. “It destroys their livelihoods and their income from resin and other forest secondary products.”
For Samoeun Vuthy, a Prov ethnic minority from Stung Treng province, keeping his ethnic group’s dignity and culture intact are key objectives. That means, in part, not working as labor for rubber plantations or other companies.
“Land concessions do not serve the interests of indigenous groups in those areas,” he said. “Traditionally, we don’t want to work for others. We want the freedom to make a living from forest products. We don’t want anyone to have control over us.”
The delegation was invited to Amnesty International’s Washington office, where members presented their concerns over concessions and the role of the national government of Cambodia. They want authorities to discuss concessions with locals before approving them, and they want the international community to support them.
“We are working to push the US government and the UN to address the Prey Lang and human rights issues,” said Prom Saunora, US-based Cambodian rights activist, who attended the presentation. “This is a violation of the communities of Prey Lang, a real violation of human rights.”
Many thousands of Kuy ethnic minorities are working to prevent the destruction of Prey Lang, a large primary forest that touches four provinces in the northeast of Cambodia. But land concessions have meant violent clashes between villagers and companies, as well as government security forces.
One such clash in Kratie province this week led to the shooting death of a 14-year-old girl by government security forces in an incident that has yet to be fully investigated.
“Amnesty is concerned all over Cambodia with forced evictions along with other things, but forced evictions are a real violation of international human rights law,” said Claudia Vandermade, Amnesty’s coordinator for Southeast Asia.
The delegation also brought its concerns to the Cambodian Embassy in Washington. Cambodian Ambassador Hem Heng said the government “has issued many laws and regulations to protect the forest.”
“Forest destruction is caused by individuals,” he said. “And the government is taking measures to review concession companies that do not comply with what they have agreed with the government.”
The delegation also met with UN officials in New York last week and were scheduled to talk with the US State Department Friday.