|Chut Wutty, the late director of the Natural Resource Protection Group, on a trip to Prey Lang forest earlier this year. Photo by Mathieu Young|
|Sam Chanthy, the wife of slain environmental activist Chut Wutty, lights incense to place before a shrine at their home in Kandal province yesterday. Photo by Pha Lina|
David Boyle and May Titthara
The Phnom Penh Post
“What’s much more important is the basic fact that people are getting killed for looking at things in the Cardamom Mountains. And they were killed by government officials working for the mafia. Now this is something the government has to address”
Eyewitness accounts that emerged this weekend shone significant light on last Thursday’s slaying of environmentalist Chut Wutty, but large questions remain, such as the name of the “company” an official said sent military police there to intervene in the first place
On Saturday, the Cambodia Daily newspaper published an account of what their two journalists, Phorn Bopha and Olesia Plokhii, witnessed while travelling with Chut Wutty when he was killed, which revealed military police had considered murdering the reporters as well.
Military police officer In Rattana was also killed in the incident, with the official explanation offered that he had shot himself twice with an AK-47 assault rife in a moment of regret after gunning down Chut Wutty – an explanation that has been widely ridiculed.
Am Sam Ath, senior investigator for the rights group Licadho, suggested that the military police report released on Friday that claimed In Rattana had committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest and stomach was less than independent.
“So how did he suicide twice? In previous times, if someone wanted to commit suicide [they’d shoot] on the side of their forehead, they have never [commited suicide] like the military police report found,” he said.
At Chut Wutty’s house yesterday, during the second day of a three-day funeral ceremony, his friend and fellow conservationist Marcus Hardtke said regardless of how farcical the explanation for In Rattana’s death was, the real issue was who sent him down there in the first place.
“What’s much more important is the basic fact that people are getting killed for looking at things in the Cardamom Mountains. And they were killed by government officials working for the mafia. Now this is something the government has to address,” he said.
Following the shooting in Koh Kong province’s Mondul Seima district at Veal Bei point, military police spokesman Kheng Tito said the officers came to the scene on behalf of a “company”, the name of which he did not disclose.
“I want the boss, and this is what the government should concentrate on,” Hardtke said, adding that while they were surely conducting an internal investigation, he had little faith anything genuine would be done in the public realm.
But three rights groups, Adhoc, Licadho and the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, visited the scene over the weekend to pursue precisely these kinds of inquiries.
CCHR president Ou Virak said yesterday that his organisation already had strong leads on just which “company” it was that asked the military police to stop Chut Wutty, but he stopped short of giving a name.
“It’s a sensitive case and we need to spend a lot more time verifying and making sure we have enough information,” he said.
Amnesty International, the Overseas Press Club of Cambodia and the Center for Cambodian Civic Education have all released statements condemning the shooting, calling for an impartial investigation and denouncing the treatment of the journalists involved.
The OPCC statement insisted members of the press should not be “unjustly accused, harassed or arrested for going about their professional duties”.
“This marks at least the second time that journalists investigating illegal logging in Koh Kong province have found themselves on the end of intimidation by militar police in contravention of the laws of the Kingdom of Cambodia,” the statement said, referencing a December incident in which two Post reporters were detained by armed military police in the province.
Ek Tha, a spokesman for the Council of Minister’s Press and Quick Reaction unit, also called for a “proper” investigation yesterday and labelled the perpetrators “gutless traitors”.
“Concerned institutions and stakeholders – like the Ministry of Environment, the forestry department, NGOs and military police should look into this case very seriously to find out what caused Chut Wutty and In Rattana to be killed,” he said.
“I have learned that there are a number of eyewitnesses around and the courts have prosecutors and judges,” he said.