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Prey Lang forest movement against deforestation, mining and agro-industries, Cambodia


“Prey Lang”, meaning “our forest” in local indigenous language, refers to one of the largest primordial forests not only in Cambodia but in the whole Indochinese peninsular.

The forest, home to spiritual beliefs, rich biodiversity and significant ecosystem services relevant to local inhabitants as well as Cambodia as a country, has been for two decades under multiple threats of deforestation and contamination due to legal and illegal logging, agro-industries, and mining activities. In an effort to protect the forest, the Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN) was established by local communities that were strongly affected by these industrial developments and which successfully mobilized to counteract them (1).

The forest, covering an area of around 360,000ha (100,000ha of them pristine primordial forests), is inhabited by around 200,000 locals from 339 villages, mainly Kuy ethnic minority. The Kuy as well as another 500,000 locals living in the surrounding areas heavily depend on the forest by tapping resin trees and collecting Non-Timber-Forest Products (NTFP) such as wine and rattan. Many of their spiritual beliefs are associated to the area, trees and animals. Around 50 endangered species live in the forest, and crucial ecosystem services are provided to locals as well as to whole Cambodia. It is an important watershed, regulating water flow and hydrology of the large surrounding areas including the Tonle Sap, and it is also a significant ‘woodshed’, with the highest carbon sequestration rates in the region (1). Beyond its socio-economic services (2), it has tremendous biological and cultural richness, making it impossible to “put a value on the forest – it’s equivalent to life itself” (local women in an interview, see video).

Already in the 1990s, heavy logging occurred under official concessions. After pressure from international donors and local environmental groups since the year 2000, a nationwide logging moratorium was achieved in 2002. However, illegal logging continued and two dozen gold and iron ore mining concessions were granted in the area. Hydroelectric dams were other target projects and moreover, the government granted several Economic Land Concessions (ELC) to rubber and cassava agro-industry companies. 40,000ha of them were located in the central pristine forest area (1;3). All this led to drastic increases in deforestation; (illegal) logging of timber and of around 250,000 resin trees; soil and water contamination due to cyanide use for gold mining; increased habitat fragmentation, due to new roads; cut-off of access ways for locals due to demarcation of concession land; criminalization of protesters and a general loss of livelihood resources for locals. In spite of legal requirements, environmental impact assessments were not conducted (1;4).

In 2007, after years of campaigning by local groups, the PLCN was established, formed mainly by local communities and Kuy indigenous. Chut Wutty a forest activist shot in 2012 the Cardamom Mountains investigating illegal logging, was strongly involved in the PLCN. Acts of resistance included actions on the ground, such as burning of illegal timber; forest patrols; seizing of work materials; mapping of illegal logging; biodiversity surveys and so on. It also included lobbying in Phnom Penh with alternative development proposals, as well as mobilizations to receive international attention, such as through ‘occupying’ the forest; petitions; and protest marches supported by Buddhist groups, or villagers dressed up as ‘avatars’ of Prey Lang. Since 2009, the PLCN and Wutty petitioned to turn 763,100ha of forest area into protected area, based on community management. In 2011, a sub-decree was issued to protect a smaller area, which was a positive step forward; although communities fear that they will not be involved in the management, producing exclusions as well as further illegal logging. The formal cancellation of 40,000 ha of ELCs in 2012 was a ‘rare victory’ (3), but also here, the government hasn’t yet enforced companies to fully stop their operations (1;3;4).

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Prey Lang forest movement against deforestation, mining and agro-industries, Cambodia
State or province:Kampong Thom, Preah Vihear, Kampong Cham, Kratie and Stung Treng Provinces
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Land acquisition conflicts
Mineral ore exploration
Tailings from mines
Agro-fuels and biomass energy plants
Plantation conflicts (incl. Pulp
Logging and non timber extraction
Specific commodities:Rubber
Iron ore

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The total Prey Lang area, comprised of evergreen low land forests, covers around 360,000 ha. The core area, characterized by primordial forests, mounts up to 100,000ha. (1)

Economic Land Concessions (ELC) granted in the core primordial forest area mounted up to 40,000, comprised of concessions, awarded to 4 different companies, believed to be subsidiaries of a larger firm. The establishment of subsidiary companies is a common strategy to overcome the legal limit of 10,000ha of concession land (3).

Another concessionaire, Vietnamese CRCK - a subsidiary of Vietnam Rubber Group (VRG)(6) - holding a 6,044ha concession, is accused by villagers to be involved in illegal logging activities (3).

Around 250,000 resin trees were estimated to be logged due to concession activities and illegal logging (1).

Around 24 mining concessions have been granted in the area (1).

In total, around 33 companies are currently active in the forest area (5)

The protected area, based on community management, as proposed by the PLCN, would cover 763,100ha (4).

The sub-decree issued to establish a protected forest and biodiversity conservation area covered 615,306ha; and was later on reduced by about 20% (3).

Project area:360,000 (forest area)
Level of Investment for the conflictive projectunknown
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:200,000 - 700,000 (from core to surrounding areas)
Start of the conflict:01/01/2000
Company names or state enterprises:Aphiwat Kaosou (II) Co Ltd.
Vietnam Rubber Group (VGR) from Vietnam
Aphiwat Kaosou Co Ltd. from Cambodia - rubber, logging
Aphiwat Kaosou (I) Co Ltd. from Cambodia - rubber, logging
PVP International Trading from Cambodia - rubber, logging
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Prey Lang Communit Network (PLCN)-
Natural Resource Protection Group (NRPG)

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Artisanal miners
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Religious groups
Local ejos
Social movements
Fisher people
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local scientists/professionals
International ejos
Local government/political parties
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Property damage/arson
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Mine tailing spills
Potential: Air pollution, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Global warming, Noise pollution
Health ImpactsVisible: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Application of existing regulations
Negotiated alternative solution
New legislation
Project cancelled
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Criminalization of activists
Strengthening of participation
Fostering a culture of peace
Under negotiation
Institutional changes
Violent targeting of activists
Land demarcation
Proposal and development of alternatives:Apart from successfully petitioning the government to cancel the ELCs located in the core area, the main alternative put forward by the PLCN was to establish a protected area, covering 763,100ha, based on community management. The government proceeded in issuing a sub-decree to establish and area of 615,306 ha, which was later on reduced by 20%. The community fears not to be sufficiently involved in the management and decision process, as well as an increase of illegal loggers, if they will not be allowed to make their own patrols.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:Apart from ongoing battles between the communities, the companies and the government, as well as ongoing operations of other concessionaires, the Prey Lang network can be considered an environmental justice success. Already in 2002, they have been among various groups to pressure the government to establish a logging moratorium. They could achieve that 4 rubber concessions amounting to 40,000ha in the core primordial area were cancelled. Further, their proposal to establish a protected forest and wildlife conservation areas was taken up by the government, although it is not yet sure in which way governance of the area will proceed. Yet, they Prey Lang movement, who received increasing support by local to international actors, continues to fight for their forest.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Sub-Decree on Establishment Of “Prey Lang” Forestry Protected And Biodiversity Conservation Area

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

(4) Pangsapa P. 2015. Environmental justice and civil society – Case studies from Southeast Asia. In Harris and Lang (Eds) Routlege Handbook of Environment and Society in Asia. Routledge, Oxon.

(2) USAID 2011 Rapid socio-economic and hydrologic assessment of Prey Lang forest

(6) Global Witness 2013 Rubber Barons (report)

(1) Website of the Prey Lang Community Network

Prey Lang on Wikipedia

(5) Phnom Penh Post article on companies active in Prey Lang Forest area

(3) Phnom Penh Post article on the suspension of ELC concession in Prey Lang

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Video on the Prey Lang forest (apart from a too optimistic part on REDD+ as solution, which will not stop illegal logging, this video gives a good rapid overview).

Meta information

Contributor:A. Scheidel (ICTA-UAB) / arnim.scheidel "at"
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:1768



Popular march in Phnom Penh: Avatars of Prey Lang


Logging in Prey Lang forest


Rubber plantations in Prey Lang forest