Chut Wutty was a fearless environmental activist who directly confronted companies, officials and members of the armed forces he alleged were involved in illegal logging across Cambodia at great personal danger to himself.
The 48-year-old tireless campaigner from Kandal province was known to drive for days on end to remote forests such as Prey Lang in the northwest and the Central Cardamom Protected Forest in the southwest in his quest to stop their destruction.
News of his death yesterday was received with disbelief from friends and family who said Cambodia had lost perhaps its only citizen with both the courage and skill to really draw the world’s attention to the plight of the country’s forests.
Chut Wutty’s brother Chhey Thuon, 41, the youngest of his eight siblings, said the slain activist from Khsach Kandal district, who trained as a soldier in Russia for six years, was a brave man who leaves behind three children and a wife.
“My brother ... did not care about high-ranking officers or powerful people,” he said.
Marcus Hardtke, Southeast Asia coordinator for the conservation group ARA and a close friend of Chut Wutty for more than a decade, said his death was a “real tragedy” that would betray 15 years of efforts to conserve Cambodia’s environment.
“He was ... more or less alone. He was standing up against a corrupt system, he had no support from multimillion dollar NGOs, only the local people supported him,” he said.
“I think the government lost a great chance here to really turn things around a bit, and in a way, Wutty was a soldier, he’s almost like a casualty of war, a war to sustain life in Cambodia,” he added. “He made an impact. He made a real impact on the ground and in the minds of the people. That I’m sure of.”
Wutty began his career in conservation some 15 years ago, playing an instrumental role in the establishment of the Central Cardamom Protected Forest in 2002 after leaving a career as a soldier.
From there he went on to found the Natural Resource Protection Group, a small-scale grass roots NGO that survived off minimal funding, yet was able to draw significant media attention to the destruction of forests all over the country.
Another friend of Chut Wutty, conservationist and researcher Dr Sarah Milne, called him “a true eco-warrior, who gave courage and inspiration to many people”.
“The injustices of forest crime and land-grabbing cannot be undone by killing Chut Wutty. His legacy will endure,” she said by email.