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Cambodian Committee to Investigate Killing of Environmental Activist

A villager tying timber to his motorcycle for trading with the logging company as two UN investigators are looking around in the compound of the logging company, April 27, 2012.

The Cambodian government says it will establish a joint committee to investigate the killing of the country’s most prominent environmental activist, as well a military policeman killed in the same incident.

Military police commander Sao Sokha told VOA Monday the committee will include officials from the ministries of the Interior and Justice, as well as the Council of Ministers and the military police.

Environmentalist Chut Wutty and two local journalists had been investigating illegal logging in a remote area of Koh Kong province last week when security forces stopped them, demanding their cameras.

Shots were fired after a lengthy argument between Chut Wutty and the officials, who appeared to be military policemen. Chut Wutty and military policeman In Ratana were fatally wounded in the incident.

Authorities had said last week that In Ratana fatally shot Chut Wutty then turned the gun on himself, but witnesses say the security official was shot twice in the chest, raising questions about the validity of the story.

Sao Sokha said the investigation would uncover the “real situation” behind the shooting. He offered no details about when the investigation would begin.

Chut Wutty’s son, Cheuy Oudom Reaksmey, is calling for a full investigation to bring the killer to justice. He said he did not believe the killer was In Ratana, or that In Ratana shot himself twice.

“I would like to request both the international and national communities find justice for my patriotic father,” Cheuy Oudom Reaksmey said Friday, weeping. “He’s well known in Cambodia, so please find him justice, find the real killer.”

Chut Wutty was the director of the Natural Resource Protection group and had acted as an environmental advocate and researcher. He had been sharply critical of government officials and military forces engaged in deforestation.

Chhim Savuth, a project coordinator with the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said he suspects the activist’s death was politically motivated.

“I conclude that the shooting of Wutty was [a plan] to shut him up by businessmen and powerful people who are doing business in the central Cardamom forest, because he was once arrested there,” said Chhim Savuth, who worked closely with Chut Wutty on educating forest communities about their rights to protest their land.

Chut Wutty had been threatened in the past, but he could not be stopped, nor bribed, said Marcus Hardtke, a program coordinator for ARA, a German conservation group that supported Chut Wutty’s work.

Hardtke said the “biggest tragedy” would be for others “not to stand up, not to speak up.”

“It would be the opposite of what he wanted,” Hardtke said. “People should take him as an example. We need a few thousand Chut Wutty’s now in Cambodia.”