Cambodia: environmentalist slain in threatened forest region

Cambodia’s most outspoken voice against illegal logging was shot dead April 27 while escorting journalists near a protected forest in Koh Kong (Kaoh Kong) province, where he has repeatedly attempted to expose outlaw timber rackets that include military officials. Chut Wutty, director of the Natural Resource Protection Group, was killed after military police apprehended him at Veal Bei in Mondul Seima district—reportedly on behalf of a logging company that asked the officers to stop him from shooting photos of their operations. When Wutty refused orders to put down his camera, a solider opened fire with his AK-47. The solider then turned the gun on himself, committing suicide on the spot, authorities said.

The logging operations involved in the incident are apparently connected to the Stung Atai dam, being built with Chinese aid in Veal Veng district of Pursat (Pouthisat) province. (See map.) Chut Wutty had charged that the company licensed to clear the area slated for the floodplain, MDS Import-Export, conspired with military and forestry administration officials to illegally cut timber in protected areas. (AP, April 27; Phnom Penh Post, April 26)

Journalists and activists attempting to bring attention to illegal logging in the region have long received death threats—and one local environmentalist was hacked to death in Kratie (Kracheh) province in October 2009 . In January, 2010, the Phnom Penh Post reported that Royal Cambodian Armed Forces soldiers detained at gunpoint 10 journalists who were pursuing a story on illegal logging. The journalists were released, but their cameras were confiscated. That October, a forestry administration official was hacked to death with axes, apparently as revenge for his work in cracking down on illegal logging.

In November, some 500 police and military police set upon on a demonstration by 300 protesters who had set fire to illegally felled timber in the Prey Lang Forest, which straddles the provinces of Preah Vihear, Kampong Thom, Kratie, and Stung Treng, between the basins of the Mekong and Stung Sen rivers. The protesters made a human shield around Chut Wutty after he was wrestled to the ground in an attempted arrest. Ou Virak, executive director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said fighting illegal logging is like fighting a drug cartel—a very risky endeavor. “These people have lots of money and they have lots of interests at stake, and they pay off local authorities and armed officials to provide protection for them,” he told the Phnom Penh Post. (Phnom Penh Post, April 27)

See our last posts on Cambodia and regional struggles for control of water.

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