Chut Wutty, a leading Cambodian environmental activist, has been shot dead by police while guiding members of the press to a remote forest region where illegal logging was taking place.
Cambodian human rights group Licadho said Wutty had brought two journalists from the Cambodia Daily Newspaper to witness large-scale forest destruction and illegal rosewood smuggling near a Chinese-built hydroelectric dam in Koh Kong, adding that a confrontation occurred after Wutty refused to hand over a memory card containing photos of the site at a military police checkpoint, The Guardian reports.
However, military police spokesman Kheng Tito said a police officer was also killed during the incident on Wednesday, and claimed that Wutty had been armed:
“We are investigating the incident so we don’t have much detailed information,” he said. “All we know is that our military policeman was doing his duty and encountered this person and there was gunfire,” he added.
The two journalists travelling with Wutty – a Canadian and a Cambodian – were initially held by police, but have since been released.
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According to the Associated Press, illegal logging is rampant in Cambodia, often taking place under the protection of government agencies or well-connected individuals.
In recent years, protests against land grabs have often been suppressed by deadly force. Wutty had been helping indigenous people organize demonstrations against the exploitation of protest forests, and – having received death threats in the past – sometimes carried an AK-47 rifle in his car, the BBC reports.
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