A prominent Cambodian anti-logging activist who helped expose a secretive state sell-off of national parks has been killed in a remote southwestern province, police have said.
Chut Wutty, director of the Phnom Penh-based environmental watchdog Natural Resource Protection Group, died after military police opened fire near a Chinese-built hydroelectric dam in Koh Kong, said Colonel Kheng Tito, a spokesman for the National Military Police, said on Wednesday.
A military police officer was also killed, he said, adding that Wutty was armed.
Tito was quoted in the Phnom Penh Post newspaper as saying that Wutty had been killed after military police apprehended him on behalf of a company who wanted the activist prevented from taking photographs of their development.
“And the company asked the military police in that area to come to intervene, and later on, the shooting happened,” the newspaper quoted him saying.
“We are investigating the incident so we don’t have much detailed information,” he said. “All we know is that our military policeman was doing his duty and encountered this person and there was a gunfire.
“Both sides were injured and later died in hospital.”
Military police detained two journalists from the Cambodia Daily who had been travelling with Wutty, according to Kevin Doyle, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, who called for the safe return of Cambodian reporter Phorn Bopha and Canadian Olesia Plokhii.
“Chut Wutty’s death is a tragedy … this is a threat to all forestry forestry activists who work for the preservation of the nature“
– Neang Boratino, Human Rights co-odinator at ADHOC
The two were now “in the company of the army or military police in the forest,” said Doyle.
Wutty, who was in his forties and leaves a wife and two children, had a reputation for speaking out against logging and corruption by government and big business.
He campaigned against the government’s granting of so-called economic land concessions to scores of companies to develop land in national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.
Wutty was particularly critical of Cambodia’s military police, who are often deployed to protect private business interests.
Tito said that his officer had encountered Wutty while patrolling the area against “forest crimes”.
“Chut Wutty was also an activist against forest crimes, we don’t know how it became like this,” he said.
The destruction of Cambodia’s forests and the forced eviction of rural families by armed men connected to influential
businessmen was “so sad,” Wutty told the Reuters news agency in February during an investigation in Koh Kong province not far from where he was shot.
Wutty’s death is a “tragedy,” said Neang Boratino, a co-ordinator in Koh Kong for the respected Cambodia Human Rights and Development Organisation (ADHOC).
“This is a threat to all forestry forestry activists who work for the preservation of the nature,” he said.
The dam, built by China National Heavy Machinery, is located in a lawless area well-known for illegal logging, he added.
Wutty is the most prominent activist to meet a violent death since Chea Vichea, a labour leader who fought for better pay and conditions for garment workers until his 2004 assassination.