06/06/2020, 09.17
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World Environment Day: Ecologists risk arrest in Cambodia

About twenty "Mother Nature" activists organized a bike ride from the island of Koh Kong to Phnom Penh. The goal was to deliver a petition to Prime Minister Hun Sen. The police stopped them, seized the bycyles and T- shirts with their logo. For the authorities, the march risked creating a Covid-19 outbreak.

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews) - On the eve of the World Environment Day 2020, which was celebrated yesterday across the planet, a group of Cambodian activists risked being arrested for promoting a campaign to protect nature.

With the aim of raising the government's awareness of the protection of the natural habitat of the island of Koh Kong - in the province of the same name, characterized by crystal clear waters and a sandy bottomed sea - some young people organized a bike ride; however, the group suspended the project following attacks and threats of arrest from local authorities.

According to reports from Radio Free Asia (Rfa), the police of Koh Kong interrupted the path of the 21 activists of the movement "Mother nature" when they were in the district of Trapaing Roung, threatening them with arrest. The group had covered only 60 km of the long journey that separates the area, in the southwest of the country, from the capital Phnom Penh. The detention took place on the evening of 4 June, after only one day of completed travel.

Group leader Rey Reaksa reports that the police initially alleged health reasons behind the detention, because the march could have helped spread the new coronavirus. The authorities took them to a clinic where they were subjected to the swab. Despite being negative, the following day they were unable to restart and received orders to stop the initiative, under penalty of arrest in the event of violation.

The activists intended to deliver a petition to Prime Minister Hun Sen, in which they asked to designate the island of Koh Kong Krov as a protected area and defend it from the impact of tourism and private interests. The police stopped the trip and seized the bikes, making them sign a confession in which they promised to stop the initiative. After their clear refusal, the group resumed their journey the next day and walked the remaining 140 km on foot. The agents arrested them a second time, seizing their shirts with the symbol of the "Mother Nature" group and threatening to arrest them.

For environmentalists, the island is in danger of being destroyed in the name of unregulated development, as happened in other areas of Cambodia. Hence the choice to promote an initiative, in conjunction with the World Day dedicated to the environment and nature.

The day began in 1972 within the United Nations General Assembly, on the occasion of the institution of the UN program dedicated to the environment. The first edition was held in 1974, under the motto "One earth". The slogan of the 2020 edition was: "It is the moment of nature" with particular attention to the theme of biodiversity, given that there are at least one million endangered species in the world, equal to 11% of the total. Two factors contribute to aggravating the situation: climate change and deforestation, the latter theme that also closely affects Cambodia itself.

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