Community activists and conservationists commemorating slain environment activist Chut Wutty on the weekend used the occasion to shed light on what they allege are the shadowy practices of a logging company in the southwestern Cardamom forests.
Activists amongst the hundreds of people who travelled to Koh Kong province’s Mondul Seima district discovered a yellow vine processing facility, which are generally prohibited under Cambodia’s forest law, at the premises of the firm Timbergeen.
But Suwanna Gauntlett, CEO of the conservation group Wildlife Alliance, which monitors the area where Timbergreen is licensed to clear the reservoirs of the Lower Stung Russey Chrum dam site, said the company had a permit to process yellow vine there.
“This [processing area] is right next to the reservoir, and it’s for yellow vine coming from the reservoir and they have licence for that from the Forestry Administration,” she said.
Chut Wutty, the late director of the Natural Resource Protection Group, was killed after military police officer In Rattana allegedly attempted to take the memory card of a camera he had been using to photograph stockpiles of yellow vine with two journalists on April 26.
A security guard who was working for Timbergreen, Ran Boroth, has been charged with accidentally shooting In Rattana during an attempt to disarm him.
When a journalist from the Post photographed the yellow vine processing facility on Saturday, a Timbergreen security guard attempted to stop him.
“Where are you from? My boss told me no pictures and interviews here because the company is legal,” the man, who only gave the name Ny, said.
Stockpiles of yellow vine and rosewood were also found at the premise along with four sawmills, though there is no evidence to suggest the timber was cut outside of the Lower Stung Russey Chrum dam site.
Yellow vine is used in the production of traditional medicines.
Timbergreen majority shareholder Khieu Sarsileap could not be reached for comment yesterday but has previously told the Post her company was in no way involved in illegal activities.
The firm’s licence to log in the area is set to expire at the start of next month.
Marcus Hardtke, who visited the site and is the Southeast Asia regional coordinator of the conservation group ARA, said it was these very activities, which the company was desperate to hide, that Chut Wutty had been investigating when he was killed.
“It indicates that something is seriously wrong there. It needs connecting of the dots. It just needs some normal criminal investigation,” he said.
Hardtke said the hundreds of activists from around the country who had travelled to Koh Kong for the memorial had achieved their purpose by bringing light to the issue.
“We have to drag this back into the rule of law and this action by the community is doing that,” he said.
Om Makkiri, Koh Kong provincial director of the Forestry Administration, could not be reached for comment.
Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the killing of Chut Wutty had highlighted the need for proper investigations of illegal logging across the country.
“You destroy the trees and you killed Wutty to threaten us to stop our activities, I think you have failed,” he said.
Hundreds of villagers travelled to Koh Kong province on Thursday, although several vans were reportedly prevented from entering the area.
On Friday, they travelled to Veal Bei point, the spot where Chut Wutty was killed in Mondul Seima district’s Bak Khlang commune, and marched with an effigy of the activist fashioned out of branches.