Slain environmental activist Chut Wutty speaks to reporters in Phnom Penh earlier this year. Photograph: Hong Menea/Phnom Penh Post
An unintentional murder charge handed to security guard Ran Boroth on Friday for allegedly killing military police officer In Rattana has left rights groups asking why officials initially claimed the deceased man had committed suicide.
Only three days after it was established by Prime Minister Hun Sen, a joint investigative committee alleged on Friday that environmental activist Chut Wutty had been shot by In Rattana, who had in turn been accidentally shot when Ran Boroth attempted to disarm him.
But on April 27, a report from the Koh Kong provincial military police found that In Rattana had allegedly turned his own weapon on himself after shooting Chut Wutty – the late director of the Natural Resource Protection Group.
Tith Sothea, deputy director of the Council of Ministers Press and Quick Reaction Unit and a member of the joint committee, said yesterday that their investigations were now closed into the matter.
“We don’t care about some NGOs who criticise us. What our committee has done is get the evidence that is true. Now we can provide the justice to the victim’s family,” he said.
He added that the conclusion had been made after interviewing all witnesses to the shooting – which took place on April 26 after Chut Wutty and two journalists stopped to photograph stockpiles of timber in Koh Kong province’s Mondul Seima district.
He also confirmed that Ran Boroth is a security guard for the company Timbergreen, which is licensed to clear the reservoirs of the Lower Stung Russey Chrum dam project near where the shooting took place.
But he said In Rattana had no such connection to the firm and reiterated the official line that he shot Chut Wutty because of a personal dispute and had been acting completely independently of any military orders.
That dispute reportedly arose after Ran Boroth and then In Rattana attempted to take the memory card from Chut Wutty’s camera.
If found guilty of unintentional murder, Ran Boroth would face between one and three years in prison and a fine of two to six million riels (US$497 to $1,490).
Khieu Sarsileap, who was listed as the majority shareholder of Timbergreen in the company’s August 2010 business listing with the Ministry of Commerce, did not answer the phone yesterday and contact details for Timbergreen could not be found.
Kheng Tito, spokesman for military police, said the reason the joint investigative committee’s findings contradicted the original official conclusion was because the first report had been made before investigations had concluded.
“It is simple: When the joint committee investigated, they found new things.”
Chut Wutty’s wife, 40-year-old Sam Chanthy, yesterday rejected the finding and said there were other reasons behind her husband’s death than just a mere personal argument with In Rattana – the official account of the military police.
“I will find a lawyer to help me to file a complaint to the appeal court to find justice for my husband,” she said.
Chut Wutty was a prominent opponent of illegal logging and had repeatedly alleged that Timbergreen exploited reservoir-clearing licences to cut down trees far outside of their permits.
Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said investigations also needed to be launched into illegal logging in the Cardamom Mountains that Chut Wutty had been examining and the cover-up he alleged local authorities instigated after the shooting.
“I think to me that that is a very serious situation, and it indicates to me that the local authorities have an interest in closing the case, to make sure no one is charged with these killings,” he said, referring to the original military police finding that In Rattana had killed himself.
Chan Soveth, a senior investigator for the rights group Adhoc, said the contradictions between the two reports and the haste of the committee’s findings showed the need for a truly independent investigation.
“This investigation did not show the truth. The government should create an independent investigation that allows NGOs to participate,” he said.
To contact the reporter on this story: May Titthara at firstname.lastname@example.org
With assistance from David Boyle
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Timbergreen officials questioned in Chut Wutty shooting
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