Cambodian officer kills prominent environment activist

The Cambodian military has concluded that one of its own police officers killed a prominent environmentalist then took his own lifein an incident in a forest rife with illegal logging.

Chut Wutty had been taking photographs on Wednesday in a forest where a Chinese company is building a hydropower dam. He refused to stop when an officer called In Ratana asked him to, military police spokesman Kheng Tito said.

The two men began arguing and cursing each other, until In Ratana shot Chut Wutty with his AK47 assault rifle.

"When he learned that Chut Wutty died, he killed himself with his own weapon," the spokesman said.

The death of Chut Wutty, the director of the country's National Resources Protection Group, outraged human rights and environmental groups. A Cambodian rights group, the Centre for Cambodian Civic Education, described it as "cold-blooded murder".

Illegal logging is rampant in Cambodia, and often occurs under the protection of government agencies or important people, environmental groups have claimed.

In recent years, protests against land grabs by rich and influential people have often been suppressed by deadly force.

Patrick Alley, director of Global Witness – an NGO that works to break the links between natural resource exploitation, conflict, poverty, corruption and human rights abuses worldwide – said the shooting exposed the risks environmental activists in Cambodia face "in the most shocking and tragic manner".

In Kong Chet, of the Cambodian human rights group Licadho, said the confrontation occurred when Chut Wutty refused to hand over a memory card containing photographs taken in a protected forest notorious for illegal logging.

He said the activist had taken two journalists from the Cambodia Daily newspaper to see large-scale forest destruction and rosewood smuggling.

The journalists were taken to a military police office for questioning, rights groups said.

Initially, Kheng Tito said the activist and officer had shot each other. But on Friday, he said a pistol with nine bullets was found inside Chut Wutty's car, but he had not fired it and there was no exchange of fire.

 Amnesty International said the journalists, Cambodian Phorn Bopha and Canadian Olesia Plokhii, were released later.

It said Chut Wutty had received threats because of his activities, and called for "an immediate and proper investigation into what happened".

Alley said in a statement that Chut Wutty was "one of the few remaining Cambodian activists willing to speak out against the rapid escalation of illegal logging and land grabbing which is impoverishing ordinary Cambodians and destroying the country's rich natural heritage".

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