Days after US President Barack Obama honoured slain Cambodian environmental activist Chut Wutty at a leadership conference in New York, a government spokesman has publicly questioned his decision to do so.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said in a Facebook post yesterday that Wutty, rather than protecting Cambodia’s forests, was himself involved in illegal logging, according to residents in Pursat.
In April 2012, Wutty was shot dead travelling to a dam site in Veal Veng, where illegal logging was allegedly taking place.
But Siphan said he had “received information” that Wutty was a “great log trader” himself. “If it is true, I feel much sorrow about Barack Obama’s speech that regarded Chut Wutty as a great man in case it creates confusion around the world,” he wrote.
Siphan also referenced disgraced Somaly Mam as an example of an activist who fooled the world.
Chhim Savuth, who took over from Wutty as director of the Natural Resource Protection Group, said there was not one shred of evidence implicating Wutty in the trade he fought to eradicate. “[Wutty] was not involved with logging, but what Phay Siphan said shows [the government] does not want to take responsibility [for illegal logging],” he said.
Siphan said he spoke out because he was afraid Obama would “lose his popularity and accountability”.