More than three hundred Prey Lang Network members, from across all four Prey Lang provinces, along with Friends of the Forest members, patrolled Prey Lang from March 23- 26, in another effort to combat the illegal logging that is decimating the area. They defended this action, which local authorities attempted to thwart via threats, by saying that the government has done nothing to stop illegal activities, even with ample evidence before them. They also continued to assert to the media that the government’s decision to grant economic land concessions and a logging coupe, and to allow a sawmill to operate in the forest, has contributed to the forest’s destruction and is threatening the livelihoods of Prey Lang communities.
Although exhausted from long and arduous travel, overnights stay in the forest, and insufficient food, they persisted in their mission. During the five -day operation, the network found thousands of resin tree logged outside company boundaries. In a controversial move, some network members burnt 300 cubics of confiscated wood. While they recognize that burning of the wood may be considered illegal, they have noted that transporting wood to Forest Administration offices is not feasible and leaving the wood as is would only result in its later transport to market. Some illegal loggers reportedly moved their logs onto company sites in order to prevent its burning.
The network also confiscated one chainsaw and destroyed two makeshift wooden bridges, thereby preventing logging trucks from accessing deep forest. With reports being circulated almost immediately that they had destroyed private, company property, network members quickly clarified to the media that the bridges were not on public roads nor on private property but were clearly being used for illegal logging in deep forest.
On March 28, patrollers demanded entry to a government-sanctioned sawmill to seek evidence of their involvement in large-scale logging. In addition to company security guards, the activists were met by at least 30 armed police and military. After a negotiation with the district governor, they were allowed entry to the site. Although they did find some cut wood stacked on site, it was not as much as what had been expected given the volume of logs seen entering the sawmill on a regular basis. The network believes that much of the wood was transported out after the network’s monitoring and protest plans were leaked on March 15.
During the five-day action, about fifty police, military police and soldiers were deployed into the forest in Kampong Thom’s Sandan district, the hottest area of conflict, to crack down on the network. Activists noted that they were also trailed by “minders” equipped with video cameras and radio recorders to document all network activities, identify key leaders, and presumably report back to authorities or companies. Prey Lang activists told news reporters that they were not afraid of arrest since they are not destroying the forest but protecting it.
The action culminated with a CCHR-hosted public forum in Boung Village. Although some authorities had earlier suggested that the meeting might not proceed, CCHR gained the cooperation of the provincial governor. Forum panel members included National Assembly members from four political parties (CPP, SRP, HRP, and Funcinpec) as well as the deputy provincial governor and officers from relevant district departments. Prey Lang activists used the forum to report findings from their 5-day patrol. They also raised important questions to the government, asking why authorities appear to be so concerned with controlling the patrollers instead of taking legal action against illegal logging and clearing. One activist told how six hundred of his resin trees had been cut without any compensation. Another Prey Lang activist petitioned the government to consider the Network as a co-manager of the forest and called for consultations on the Prey Lang sub-degree with the network and others.
CPP (ruling party) speakers as well as government officials avoided questions, even denying some of the concerns that had been raised. In contrast, opposition party members endorsed network complaints and expressed commitment to assist the network gain legal recognition.
Some of the dignitaries, including several from the ruling party, noted the activists poor state yet strong commitment and donated money to assist them. The network raised more than $1000, which will be used to help defray costs of the patrol.