Cambodia’s most outspoken activist against illegal logging was shot dead today while escorting journalists near a protected forest in Koh Kong province, where he has repeatedly attempted to expose illegal logging rackets that include military officials.
Chut Wutty, the director of Natural Resource Protection Group, was killed after military police apprehended him at Veal Bei in Mondul Seima district on behalf of a company that asked them to stop him from shooting photos of their development, military police spokesman Kheng Tito said.
“And the company asked the military police in that area to come to intervene, and later on, the shooting happened,” he said, adding that this had occurred at about 12:30 in the afternoon.
He said that military police officer In Rattana, 31, was also killed in the shooting.
While he said he could not confirm it, he told the Post he believed it was possible that Chut Wutty had been armed, but was unable to say who fired first because he had yet to receive a report from his officers.
Two journalists from the Cambodia Daily that were travelling with Chut Wutty, Phorn Bopha and Olesia Plokhii, had been detained by military police, said the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Kevin Doyle, who called for their safe return.
They remained in “the company of the army or military police in the forest,” he said.
Rights group Licadho immediately dispatched investigators, and the organisation’s Koh Kong provincial coordinator, In Kong Chet, said that after talking to ballistics police, he had established that Chut Wutty was shot as he tried to drive away from the military police.
“Mr. Chut Wutty went to shoot a photo in a place where a lot of trees were being cut and then one military police came asking him for the memory [card] from him,” he said.
He alleged that In Rattana threatened to shoot a defiant Chut Wutty and opened fire with an AK-47 when he attempted to drive his car away, but was also killed when a bullet ricocheted off the vehicle.
“The first bullet hit Wutty’s knee and [In Rattana] continued hitting his stomach, so that caused Wutty’s death, and other two bullets hit Wutty’s car and ricocheted hitting Rattana and killing him,” he said, adding he had examined their dead bodies.
Thong Narong, Military police chief in Koh Kong province, said his officers were still investigating the case.
Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said he also could not confirm details but that it was very regretful if Chut Wutty had indeed been shot.
“If it’s true, personally, I share my condolences with his family,” he said.
The group was reportedly travelling toward the Stung Atai dam in Pursat province’s Veal Veng district where Chut Wutty had alleged that the company licensed to clear the area, MDS Import Export, had conspired with military and forestry administration officials to illegally log.
Chut Wutty had been the country’s most vocal critic of the military’s alleged role in illegal logging conducted by companies granted land concessions in protected forests and related government corruption.
Last December, after being repeatedly apprehended by military police after escorting the Post to the Central Cardamom Protected Forest in southwestern Cambodia, Chut Wutty asked for his photograph to be taken fearing he could soon be killed.
His younger brother Chheuy Wutty said his brother’s body will be repatriated to Svay Meas village, his home town in Vihear Sour commune, Kchlach Kandal district, Kandal province.
To contact the reporter on this story: May Titthara at [email protected]
David Boyle at [email protected]
With assistance from REUTERS