Photo by: Mathieu Young
Chut Wutty, an environmental activist who was gunned down in Koh Kong province last month, burns luxury wood felled by illegal loggers in the Prey Lang forest in February.
The “company” that military police have declined to identify but said sent staff to confront activist Chut Wutty shortly before he was shot last Thursday is Timbergreen, a firm the slain activist had attempted to expose for illegal logging.
Documents obtained by the Post yesterday and sources have confirmed Timbergreen is the firm licensed to clear the reservoirs of the Lower Russey Chrum dam project in Koh Kong province’s Mondul Seima district, not far from the site where Chut Wutty was shot.
Armed forces commander-in-chief Sao Sokha and military police officials have said staff from a company licensed to clear that dam site had attempted to stop Chut Wutty from taking photos of timber stockpiles.
A Timbergreen security official, Ran Boroth, has also reportedly been arrested as a suspect in the shooting of military police officer In Rattana – who was also killed during the incident and has widely been accused of gunning down Chut Wutty.
Khieu Sar Sileap, who was registered as the majority shareholder of Timbergreen in August 2010, confirmed yesterday that the firm held the licence to clear the dam reservoirs, but declined to comment further.
“I am sorry about that. I have stopped being involved with Timbergreen,” she said, adding that she had handed over the project to other people more than one year ago.
But she remains listed on the permit to clear the area dated June 1, 2010. That permit, authorised by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, is set to expire on the same date next month.
During trips to the Cardamom Mountain range, Chut Wutty had attempted to prove that Timbergreen was operating a large-scale illegal logging racket in Koh Kong province and was repeatedly apprehended by military police for doing so.
Last Thursday, he stopped with two journalists at Veal Bei point in Mondul Seima district and began photographing logs.
But the situation turned ugly after men, including military police officials, arrived on the scene and demanded he delete the photographs, shortly before Chut Wutty and In Rattana were fatally shot.
Former Koh Kong forestry administration chief, Hun Ran, said military police had arrested his son – Timbergreen security official Ran Boroth – as a suspect five days ago.
“I have met my son already, but he did not say anything to me, so I have to wait for the result of the committee’s investigation,” Hun Ran said.
Tith Sothea, deputy director of the Council of Ministers Press and Quick Reaction Unit and a member of the joint committee investigating the case, declined to comment about the details of the arrest because he could discuss on an ongoing investigation.
“Related to the one man who was arrested, it is related to court procedure,” he said.
Am Sam Ath, senior investigator for rights group Licadho, said that Ran Boroth, 26, had been arrested and held for questioning in Koh Kong province since the evening of May 1.
Hun Ran said military police should have waited for a joint investigation committee on which Prime Minister Hun Sen signed off on Tuesday before arresting anyone and slammed a report into the incident the committee released last Friday as convoluted and unbelievable.
That report suggested In Rattana had committed suicide after shooting Chut Wutty and contradicted several earlier explanations provided by military police officials.
In December, during a trip to the Central Cardamom Protected Forest, Chut Wutty was apprehended by military officials with two journalists from the Post after a photographer repeatedly shone a flashlight on trucks carrying luxury timber at night.
The armed men demanded that Chut Wutty talk to their boss on a mobile phone. After a heated exchange, he identified this person as the chief of security at Timbergreen.
Timbergreen holds the licence to clear the nearly 2,000-hectare reservoir of the Stung Tatai dam, on the Tatai river in Thma Bang district, and Chut Wutty had alleged the company was logging extensively outside this area.
As of August, 2010, Timbergreen’s other investors were Hou Hap (27.5 per cent) and Huy Thera (15 per cent), according to the firm’s Ministry of Commerce registration.
Chut Wutty and In Rattana were gunned down in an area overseen by the conservation organisation Wildlife Alliance in the protected Southern Cardamom Forest.
Wildlife Alliance CEO Suwanna Gauntlett said yesterday the slaying had drawn “extremely damaging” worldwide media coverage that undermined confidence in public security, damaged Cambodia’s reputation and would ultimately hurt an emerging eco-tourism sector.
“Every single thing that happened on this crime scene is in violation of the civilian code. Detaining civilians on a public road is one … keeping the car from leaving the area, stealing the cameras from inside the car, switching off the ignition of the car and then killing,” she said. “It is also an issue of Cambodia’s economic development, of Cambodia’s reputation, of security, public safety – this is absolutely unconscionable.”
To contact the reporters on this story: May Titthara at [email protected]
David Boyle at [email protected]
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