KRATIE PROVINCE, CAMBODIA — Prey Lang is one of Cambodia’s few remaining large forests, covering approximately 3,600 square kilometers across four northern provinces.
The forest is home to about 200,000 mostly indigenous people, who depend on it for their livelihoods, according to the Prey Lang Community Network. But, the advocacy group and other locals say, illegal logging threatens their traditional ways of life.
In Kratie province one recent day, Hean Chhit and his grandchild were preparing to collect resin, used for making torches and mending boats, from their trees.
The 62-year-old farmer used to own a few hundreds of trees, he said. But logging companies came into the area, and now only a few dozen trees remain.
“I've been living here [for over 30 years], depending on that plot of rice field and these trees, vines and rattans,” he said. “But since the loggers came to destroy this Prey Lang, what can we rely on for our living?"
His wife, Prak Rith, said the family and community rely on the forest to sustain them.
“We depend on the resins so that we can buy other necessary commodities and other groceries for our daily life," she said.
Heading deep into the forest, this VOA reporter saw several big machines, including excavators and bulldozers. A group of men guarding them claimed the machines were for paving roads to surrounding villages. But locals say they are used to clear the forest instead.
Despite patrols by people living and working in the forest, illegal logging has increased, said Kim Sokhorn, a network representative.
The forest has been threatened ever since the government implemented a land concession policy, Sokhorn said.
Government authorities, such as forestry administration officials, “are on the state's payrolls to do the job of preventing and cracking down on illegal logging in the Prey Lang area,” Sokhorn said.
Instead, they’ve served corporate interests, Sokhorn charged.
Authorities deny the accusation, saying the government's forest and land concession policy is aimed at boosting the national economy and providing jobs to the local community.
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Khmer service.