The Ministry of Environment condemned the environmental group Mother Nature Cambodia after its youth activists delivered a petition Monday to halt state land grants to private companies in Kirirom national park, according to a statement.
Mother Nature activist Thoun Sreypov, 21, said the petition had urged the government to stop granting land to private companies in Kirirom National Park, a popular tourist destination in Kampong Speu province.
On June 27 last year, a state sub-decree granted a private company, One More Ltd, 221.94 hectares of forest land within Kirirom. One of the company’s directors is Choeung Sokuntheavy, daughter of tycoon Choeung Sopheap, whose husband is senator Lao Meng Khin.
The activists’ petition requested the government “withdraw the licenses from private companies” in the national park and return the land to the state.
The Ministry of Environment said that the group had been committing “illegal acts” and was not an officially recognized NGO. The Ministry’s statement added that anyone who participated in the movement would be held “accountable” and that the group’s activities were “against the interests of Cambodian society.”
“There is nothing illegal whatsoever about young Cambodian citizens exercising their rights and participating in peaceful public events,” said Mother Nature’s co-founder, Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, who was deported in 2015.
Ministry of Environment spokesperson Neth Pheaktra declined to comment further.
When asked whether the group’s petitioners would face legal consequences, National police spokesperson Chhay Kim Khoeun said “Why did you ask me this question?”
“Any organization or anyone doing illegal activities will face arrests,” he said. “Do not ask me like this, now I am busy.” He hung up the phone.
The Ministry of Environment established a new government-supported NGO, also called Mother Nature, in February. A range of prominent environmental activists have publicly aligned themselves with the ruling CPP in the past months, as July elections approach.
Sreypov, the activist, said she thought the Ministry of Environment should focus on responding to the social and environmental issues raised by her group rather than attempting to discredit the activists.
“This is real intimidation and the threats thwart youth involvement with us,” she said. “They are violating our freedom of speech to raise concerns in society, while using the law to attack us.”
“We voice what we see that is wrong,” she added. “They must not stop our activities.”