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Forest activist shot dead in Cambodia allegedly over photos of illegal logging

Aerial view of illegal logging in Koh Kong Province where forest activist, Chut Wutty, was shot dead today. Photo by: Paul Mason USAID/Cambodia/OGD.
Aerial view of illegal logging in Koh Kong Province where forest activist, Chut Wutty, was shot dead today. Photo by: Paul Mason USAID/Cambodia/OGD.

Chut Wutty, a prominent activist against illegal logging and deforestation, has been killed in the Koh Kong province of Cambodia. Wutty was shot dead at a military police checkpoint while traveling with two journalists with The Cambodia Daily. The journalists are currently being held for questioning by the military police.

Licadho, a Cambodian human rights organization, says that Wutty was shot down when he refused to hand over a memory card with photos of illegal logging to military police. However, military police spokesperson, Kheng Tito, said that Wutty may have been armed and clashed with military personnel. A police officer, In Rattanna, was also killed in the incident.

“I am not sure exactly about this case—why it happened. I will know it later,” Tito said.

However, the Phnom Penh Post reports that a rapid investigation by the Licadho has revealed that Chut Wutty was shot from behind by an AK-47 as he drove away from the military police checkpoint. According to them, In Rattanna was killed by a ricocheting bullet after shooting at Wutty, not by an armed Wutty. The two journalists with Wutty were uninjured at the time.

According to Lacadho, Wutty and the journalists were returning from a visit to a Chinese-built dam where illegal logging has been rife.

Head of the National Resources Protection Group, Wutty had long been an outspoken advocate for Cambodia’s forests. He fought against government “economic land concessions,” which allow private companies to run extractive industries in parks and wildlife refuges, according to the Guardian. But it’s not just protected areas that are at stake, Licahdo has recently released a report that contends that half of all of Cambodia’s arable land has been handed out as economic land concessions.

In a brief article, The Phnom Penh Post noted that Wutty was “instrumental” in an journalistic investigation by the paper of illegal logging in the Central Cardamom Protected Forest, the same area where he was killed. The investigation showed how military police and government forestry officials paid by environmental NGO, Conservation International (CI), were smuggling illegal rosewood out of the forest.

“[Chut Wutty] was well known for directly confronting those he accused of illegal logging across the country,” the paper adds, further noting that at one point during the investigation Wutty asked to have his photo taken because he feared he would soon be killed.

Concern has turned now to the two journalists being held by military police, local journalist Phorn Bopha and Ukrainian Olesia Plokhii. The editor of The Cambodia Daily has asked that they be returned safely, while the Club of Cambodian Journalists press organization has also called for their safe release. In addition, the Club condemned the shooting of Wutty and said those responsible should be prosecuted.

Wutty was married with two children.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Cambodia lost 22 percent of its forest cover between 1990 and 2010, an area larger than Haiti. As of 2010, around 57 percent of the country was covered in forest, but only 3.2 percent of this was primary forest.

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