Nearly two years have passed since Cambodia’s leading forestry activist, Chut Wutty, was gunned down in the Cardamom Mountains.
After a long wait, more than 100 activists, supporters and monks will finally make the pilgrimage on Saturday to the spot where he was killed to pay their respects.
Forestry activists will travel from far afield to attend, joining monks from Koh Kong province offering prayers and blessings in remembrance of a man many revere as a martyr who strove to protect Cambodia’s rapidly depleting forests from seemingly insatiable business interests.
“The family and those who love the forest will remember him in their heart forever,” Chheuy Oddom Rasmey, Wutty’s son, said.
Wutty was fatally shot while investigating illegal logging in Mondul Seima district’s Bak Khlang commune on April 26, 2012, in the company of two journalists working for a local newspaper.
Charges against the man suspected of firing the fatal shots, In Rattana, were eventually dropped because both victim and suspect were dead – Rattana having been shot shortly after Wutty.
Timber Green employee Ran Borath was found guilty by Koh Kong Provincial Court in October 2012 of the “accidental killing” of Rattana, but he would only serve six months of his two-year sentence.
Government officials at the time put forward a series of explanations that rights groups called “bizarre” and “contradictory” following the shooting, before pinning the blame on Rattana.
“I will continue seeking justice for my doting father, even though the Cambodian court rejects his case,” Rasmey said.
After two years, Oddom Rasmey said he has been left with more questions than answers. He is preparing to file a case to the International Court of Justice, he added, as the Cambodian justice system has failed to properly investigate the killing.“I want to seek justice for my father, whoever is behind the killing of my father,” he said.
The killing sent shockwaves through the activist community, with one prominent rights worker saying it set a “very chilling precedent for anyone who wants to speak out against the status quo in Cambodia”.
Chhum Yim, a forest activist who worked closely with Wutty, said he hoped the authorities would allow the commemoration to be held without obstruction.
“We are not afraid because, in the past, even though there were threats from the police, I and Chut Wutty still tried to curb forest crimes,” he said.
But despite the best efforts of activists such as Wutty and Yim, the depletion of Cambodia’s forests continues virtually unabated.
About 42 per cent of the country was covered in dense forest in 1973, with only about 11 per cent remaining, maps released by Open Development in December showed. In a particularly glaring example, the Snuol Wildlife Sanctuary has been 90 per cent deforested. Since 2009, about 60 per cent of the evergreen coverage in the sanctuary has been lost to vast government-sanctioned economic land concessions.
Illegal loggers backed by big business have continued to find new ways to circumvent bans and reinvent the industry.
A Post investigation earlier this month revealed that the populations of whole districts in Preah Vihear province had been encouraged to fell trees on an industrial scale for tycoon Try Pheap’s MDS Import Export Co, leading to anarchic logging on a scale that may be unprecedented in Cambodia.
Attendees at Saturday’s no-doubt solemn ritual will mourn both the man Wutty was and the passing of a robust resistance to rampant illegal logging that has now waned, Yim said.
“If Chut Wutty was still alive, the forest destruction would not be as anarchic as it is now,” he said. “We also try to make a difference, but we are not as powerful as he was.”