April 24, 2012
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EarthAction, a global network of over 2,000 organizations in 160 countries, and Cultural Survival, an advocacy organization for Indigenous Peoples’ rights, have begun a worldwide campaign to protect the Prey Lang forest in Cambodia—its people, its trees, its life. The international campaign supports and complements the local efforts of the Prey Lang Community Network, a group of mostly Indigenous people whose villages surround the Prey Lang forest and whose livelihoods depend on the forest’s resources. Prey Lang, about the size of Rhode Island, is the last large primary forest of its kind on the Indochina peninsula.
Campaigners point out that Prey Lang is to Cambodia, what the Amazon is to Brazil. A few decades ago, almost no one recognized the imminent destruction of the Amazon rainforest and its potential damage to global ecosystems. “That's where we are today with the imminent destruction of Prey Lang,” states Lois Barber, EarthAction’s Executive Director.
This global campaign has won a legion of new supporters as the destruction of the forest has accelerated and threats to indigenous people have escalated. A recent unconfirmed report from insiders that Cambodia’s government has granted four additional land concessions in the core of the Prey Lang area has galvanized the campaign. “If true, and these concessions are allowed to go ahead”, says Barber, “we fear it is ‘game over’ for the forest and its communities.” She adds, “At this point, the only way to stop the granting of concessions and the illegal logging is to exert international pressure on the Cambodian government.”
Despite government intimidation, threats of violence, and the presence of the police and the military, hundreds of local villagers are patrolling the forests—day and night—to stop the illegal logging. On March 26, 2012, the Phnom Penh Post reported that 500 villagers from the Prey Lang area were patrolling the forest on 250 motorbikes. The Post reported the villagers “have vowed to continue patrols in coming days and to block a road used by rubber company CRCK if authorities don’t take action.”
Local and global campaigners are calling on the government to stop the threats to activists who are trying to protect the forest, even while illegal logging and clear cutting continue. An informal national alliance of grassroots groups and NGOs that includes farmers, fishers, tourist workers, vendors, and other informal workers from all across the country are standing in solidarity with the Prey Lang Network. Outrage over Prey Lang’s destruction is mobilizing opposition throughout the country in a way that few issues have.
Soem Sean, a village representative from Kampong Thom, said, “The reason we decided to do this is because the number of illegal loggers is increasing, but the authority has done nothing to stop these people. So we have to do it.”
Thai Bunleang, a Kuy elder, farmer, and Prey Lang Network activist, adds, “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.”
For years the Prey Lang forest has been under attack from illegal road builders and loggers, agribusiness, and mining companies who have made quick profits by extracting and exporting the forest’s natural resources. The villagers have been unable to determine where the trees are taken, but it is believed that much of the wood is illegally smuggled into China and Vietnam where it is made into cheap patio furniture and other wood products that are exported around the world.
Paula Palmer, director of Cultural Survival’s Global Response program, points out, “In 1970, 70 percent of Cambodia’s land was covered with old-growth forests. Today it is only 3 percent. The Kuy people are calling on us to help them save what’s left.” Palmer adds, “Studies show that forests thrive best when they are managed by Indigenous communities, so it is important for the Prey Lang Community Network to play a role in managing the Prey Lang forest.”
The Prey Lang Global Campaign calls on people everywhere to send a message to the Cambodian Prime Minister urging him to take immediate action to protect the Prey Lang forest. Specifically, the campaign supports the local indigenous people who are calling on Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to:
--CANCEL all logging and mining concessions in the greater Prey Lang area
--CONFER Prey Lang with protected status and enforce its protection
--COMMIT to sustainably managing the forest in cooperation with the Prey Lang Community Network and replant and rehabilitate all clear cut areas
Campaigners note that messages can be sent to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, care of the Cambodian UN Mission, 327 East 58th Street, New York NY 10022 USA, Email: Cambodia@un.int.
At www.earthaction.org/ourforest, people and organizations can add their name to a sign-on letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen, and request a free Prey Lang Action Kit.
Previous campaigns organized by EarthAction in collaboration with local groups faced with the destruction of their forests have resulted in saving the Lopè Forest Reserve in Gabon, Clayoquot Sound in British Columbia, Canada (both of which are now UN Biosphere Reserves), and the Imataca Forest in Venezuela.
Previous campaigns organized by Global Response with local groups have saved rainforests in Costa Rica, Venezuela, Nigeria, Honduras, Chile, and Nicaragua.
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About EarthAction. EarthAction is a global network of over 2,000 civil society organizations in more than 160 countries, along with policymakers, journalists and citizens, who take timely, focused, action together to protect the global environment, preserve peace, and promote human rights. EarthAction has initiated over 90 global campaigns since its launch at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992.
PO Box 63
Amherst, MA 01004 USA
About Cultural Survival. For 40 years, Cultural Survival has partnered with Indigenous Peoples around the world to protect their lands, languages and cultures. At the request of Indigenous communities that are struggling to prevent environmental destruction in their territories, the Global Response program organizes international public-pressure campaigns to change the policies and behaviors of governments and corporations.
Cambridge MA, Boulder CO, and Guatemala
Web campaign: http://www.culturalsurvival.org/take-action/cambodia
ADDITIONAL SOURCES OF INFORMATION
--Terry Parnell, East West Management Institute, can facilitate contact with Khmer speakers. Tel: 855 23 224 782, 855 23 221 164, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
--Sokheng Seng, press contact for The Prey Lang Community Network. Tel: 855 92 324 668, Email: email@example.com
Amnesty International video: http://www.amnesty.org.au/poverty/comments/27241
YouTube 5 minute video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJHEiYmleVo&feature=player_embedded#
CNN iReport, 2 minute video about the Avatar protest, May 2011:
PRI’s The World, 4 minute audio report of the Avatar protest, May 25, 2011: http://www.theworld.org/2011/05/indigenous-protest-cambodia/
List of media coverage of the May 2011 Avatar Protest: http://ourpreylang.wordpress.com/2011/05/26/prey-lang-avatars-in-world-news/
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PREY LANG FACT SHEET
The Bigger Picture: In 1970, 70% of Cambodia’s land was covered with old-growth forests. Today it is only 3%. Cambodia has the third highest deforestation rate in the world, behind only Nigeria and Vietnam.
Size: The core area of Prey Lang consists of primary, lowland, evergreen, forests, that cover about 200,000 acres. It is surrounded by over 600,000 acres of secondary forest. The entire Prey Lang area is roughly the size of Rhode Island.
Population: 200,000 people depend on the Prey Lang forest for their livelihoods, their culture, and their lives. Some 300 villages and family rice fields are also at risk that are scattered through a large buffer zone of secondary forest that surrounds Prey Lang.
Not Legally Protected: The Prey Lang forest is not fully legally protected by law, and existing laws are not enforced. Illegal loggers are clear-cutting large areas of old-growth trees.
Industrial Concessions: More than 30 companies have been granted economic and mining land concessions in the greater Prey Lang area by the Cambodian government. Old-growth forests are clear-cut and replaced with rubber tree and cassava plantations (the latter to provide ‘eco-friendly’ ethanol), or mined for iron and other ores.
Rate of Destruction: A botanical team from a top European University recently conducted several surveys in Prey Lang and predict that at the current rate of destruction, the entire Prey Lang forest will be gone within five years.
Language: In the language of Cambodia’s Kuy people, Prey Lang means “Our Forest.”
Biodiversity: Prey Lang is Cambodia’s ‘Amazon’. The forest has seven distinct ecosystems, including primordial swamp forest, that provide habitat to more than 50 endangered animal and bird species including sun bears, tigers, and leopards. Most areas remain largely unexplored by scientists. Elephants and tigers may still roam in parts of Prey Lang.
Water & Food Security: The Prey Lang forest is a vital source of water for Cambodia’s rice growing region and for the Mekong delta. As a primary watershed regulating water and sediment flow to the Tonle Sap Basin, and as an important fish spawning area, Prey Lang is vital for Cambodia’s long-term environmental sustainability and for food and water security.
Climate Stabilization: Left standing, the Prey Lang forest has among the highest carbon sequestration values in the region and is a powerhouse for fighting global warming. Cambodia’s Forest Administration has identified Prey Lang as an important area for conservation, with high potential for carbon-credit financing.
Meeting the Needs of Villagers: The Prey Lang forest meets the food, water, livelihood, and spiritual needs of the Kuy communities. They build their rice fields along Prey Lang’s edges and go into the forest for hunting, fishing, and gathering fruits and herbs for food and ceremonies. They tap several species of trees and collect the resin for making torches and caulking boats. Resin has become the main source of cash for many Kuy families who sell it for industrial use. Overall, the forest is the spiritual center of their lives.
Short Lived Victory: In 2002, the Prey Lang people and other forest communities persuaded the government to ban logging concessions. But their victory was short-lived as the government continued to award concessions to agro-industry and mining companies, both of which clear-cut the land.
Avatars: In May 2011, members of the Prey Lang Network gained international media attention for their staged demonstrations in Phnom Penh where they painted themselves blue and green, wore leaf hats, and called themselves Avatars, after the James Cameron film. (see links in the Additional Information Section above)
Repression & violence: Police armed with AK-47s have broken up Prey Lang Network meetings and Network members are being increasingly threatened with physical harm and criminal charges.