Dressed like the Na'vi tribe from the 2009 science-fiction film Avatar, Cambodian villagers protested the plan to clear the Prey Lang forest to make way for the establishment of plantations and mines. Prey Lang is the “largest primary lowland dry evergreen forest remaining both in Cambodia and on the Indochinese Peninsular”:
Prey Lang is arguably the largest intact area of indigenous land left in Cambodia. Located between the Mekong and Stung Sen Ricers, the forest straddles four provinces (Preah Vihear, Kampong Thom, Kratie, and Stung Treng.)
About 200,000 people, mostly indigenous Kuy (pronounced Koo-ie,) live in 339 villages in six districts surrounding the forest. As many as 350,000 people live in the greater Prey Lang area.
The ‘Avatar’ protesters have also maximized the cyberspace to gather more support for their campaign. Aside from an online petition to save the forest, a blog was set-up to provide public updates on some of their activities like prayer ceremonies and leaflet distribution.
In behalf of the Prey Lang Network, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights highlights the views of villagers who stand to suffer the most if Prey Lang forest is destroyed.
Minh Ny from Prey Lang: “Through this peaceful event I hope that we save Prey Lang for the next generation and make the media and public know about the importance of the forest to the lives of the residents who live within it and to the environment more generally.”
Phok Hong, an indigenous Kuy from Prey Lang: “If I lose Prey Lang, I lose my life. Everyday I worry about losing Prey Lang. I worry that the land broker and the company will destroy it and I will lose my way of life. If we lose Prey Lang we lose the forest, the herbal remedies, the wild life and most importantly the indigenous traditions that have been passed down through many generations of our ancestors. Today I will pray for the world to appreciate the importance of Prey Lang and help us put and end to this conflict”.
Seng Sokheng a representative of the Community Peace-building Network: “The scale of this event is unprecedented and yet it does not fully reflect the gravity of the threat against Prey Lang. Though all land conflicts can destroy lives those that relate to the destruction of natural resources and forest areas create environmental changes that will affect generations. It is great to see communities uniting together against injustices relating to land and, particularly, to the management of our natural resources.”
The protests have been generally peaceful but the recent activity of the Prey Lang ‘Avatars’ involving a Buddhist prayer ceremony and leaflet distribution was disrupted by Phnom Penh's local authorities. More than 100 individuals were briefly detained and questioned but they were released afterwards. The photos and videos of the arrest are available on a Cambodian human rights portal, Sithi.
A documentary about Prey Lang, “One Forest, One Future”, was produced by Jocelyn and Ben Pederick:
Those who support the struggle of the indigenous communities living in Prey Lang are encouraged to write to the government of Cambodia. Below is an excerpt of a sample letter addressed to Prime Minister Hun Sen
Dear Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen,
I am writing to you to urge you to do everything in your power to protect the Prey Lang forest which is an important resource for the people of Cambodia, of Southeast Asia, and of the world.
I ask you to take the following actions:
–Suspend all logging and mining concessions in the greater Prey Lang area
–Confer Prey Lang with protected status and enforce its protection
–Replant already cleared areas of the forest
–Commit to sustainably managing the forest in cooperation with the Prey Lang Community Network.