SPECIAL POST: The Prey Lang Network Mourns the Death of Chut Vuthy
On April 26th, 2012, Chut Vuthy, a partner in the fight to stop illegal logging throughout Cambodia, was shot to death by Military Police. Vuthy refused to hand over memory cards containing photos of a company incursion into publically held land. He is the most prominent activist to die in Cambodia since 2004.
Network leaders were on hand at Vuthy's funeral, and have joined in protests since his death. They say that they do not live in fear following Vuthy's death, but instead will continue his work: "We will face problems, and we will struggle. We have experienced all sorts of problems with land disputes but we are not afraid." - Doung Douem
By signing this petition, your voice is added to those against the silencing of activists; please support the Prey Lang Network's efforts to end exploitative land concessions and illegal logging.
About Prey Lang and its Environmental Significance
Prey Lang is the last large primary forest of its kind on the Indochinese peninsula. Inclusive of seven distinct ecosystems including unique primordial forest, Prey Lang’s biodiversity is exceptionally high, including at least 40 endangered plant and animal species.
As a primary watershed, regulating water and sediment flow to the Tonle Sap Basin, and as an important spawning area for fish, Prey Lang is vital for Cambodia’s long-term environmental sustainability and people’s food and water security. With among the highest carbon sequestration values in the region, it is a powerhouse for fighting global warming.
About 200,000 people, mostly indigenous Kuy, live around the forest and are dependent on it for their livelihoods and culture.
The Fight to Save Prey Lang: A Community Unites
The Prey Lang community, which represents mostly indigenous Kuy communities around the forest, are taking the lead in the fight to save Prey Lang. They have petitioned the government on numerous occasions to protect Prey Lang and cooperate with relevant government agencies to co-manage the Forest, while staving off encroachment by private sector interests.
“We [the Kuy] have been here for generations, and the forest did not disappear,” Ru Lark, network member and Kuy elder, said. “We know how to take care of the forest but in the face of new development we need the government’s commitment and help to protect and manage the forest in a sustainable way.”
Cambodia’s Forestry Administration has identified Prey Lang as an important area for conservation, with high potential for carbon-credit financing. But the fact that Prey Lang remains unprotected and that concessions continue to be awarded even in primary forest, calls that plan into question.
Developments around the forest have now accelerated markedly. Rubber concessionaires are clearing both community-use forest and primary forest. New roads are ushering in migrants and illegal logging. High gold prices have motivated a rash of illegal gold mines, using toxic chemicals, along Prey Lang’s rivers
What They’re Doing
Responding to these rapid changes, the community has united to form a citizens’ brigade. Their actions have included both local and national-level events. Inspired by the film “Avatar,” they attracted national and international attention to Prey Lang in colorful demonstrations in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
Network members have also:
- Staged repeated protests in and around Prey Lang, including a 10-day “occupation” of the forest to call public attention to illegal logging and land concessions, and road blocks to hinder the transport of illegal timber,
- Collected over 30,000 sign-ons for a petition to save Prey Lang, presented to the Royal Government of Cambodia,
- Initiated forest patrols, including youth groups, to challenge illegal logging and clearing,
- Mapped various areas of the forest to track government concessions and illegal activities and to document their own forest claims,
- Conducted simple biodiversity surveys to document species important for community livelihoods and traditional practices,
- Attracted a national following, including a coalition of civil society organizations who support their cause, even though they do not live in the Prey Lang area, and
- Intimidated companies operating illegally by demonstrating the power of community action and community cohesion
“This forest is important for everyone,” Phai Vun Leang, 48, asserted. “Without forest, there is no life. In the Kuy language, Prey Lang means “our forest.” This forest is for everyone. Prey Lang is our forest but it is your forest, too. You can help save it.”
What Comes Next
The Royal Government of Cambodia has recently drafted a Sub-Decree which would provide for the establishment of a Prey Lang Forestry Protected and Biodiversity Conservation Area. While the sub-decree represents a positive step forward, Prey Lang community members are concerned that the designated area excludes important areas of forest while also cutting many of surrounding communities from the forest and making the boundary of the forest largely concessions, a plan that it unlikely to be effective in saving either the forest or the communities which depend on it.
International attention that advocates for the protection of the forest and for respecting the rights of forest communities, including their engagement in forest management, is urgently needed. The Royal Government of Cambodia has consistently shown itself positively influenced by international attention. Help us to shine the spotlight on Prey Lang in order to protect the forest and its communities.
How to Help
1. Sign this petition!
2. Like ‘Prey Lang: Its Your Forest Too’ on facebook
3. Follow @preylangforum on twitter
4. View Mathieu Young’s photos from his February 2012 trip on www.mathieuyoung.com
5. Visit www.preylang.com/takeaction to learn more
Add your voice today to help save Prey Lang Forest. Prey Lang is your forest, too.