It takes particularly cynical government officials to use the world’s focus on tackling COVID-19 to accelerate illegal logging of protected forests; simultaneously lining the pockets of business elites, attacking environmental activists, and sabotaging its own ability to fight the climate emergency. Yet this is exactly what some in Cambodia appear to be doing.
Since the beginning of the year, illegal logging within Cambodia’s Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary has escalated, as have efforts by the government to silence those who are monitoring and exposing this destruction.
Prey Lang Forest originally covered 500,000 hectares in central Cambodia. It is one of the largest remaining lowland evergreen forests in mainland Southeast Asia, home to the Kuy indigenous peoples and a biodiversity hotspot. Despite the vast majority becoming a designated Wildlife Sanctuary in 2016, with timber exports from the area banned, it has remained under sustained attack. The Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN), a grassroots network of mainly indigenous environmental defenders, has been monitoring illegal logging and forest clearance since 2001. From then until 2018, they have reported over 41,000 hectares of forest loss within Prey Lang – nearly 10% of the Wildlife Sanctuary.