Cambodian environmental activist Chut Wutty was killed by military police Wednesday as he returned from taking two journalists to a protected site where he hoped to stop "large-scale forest destruction and illegal rosewood smuggling."
A Cambodian rights group, the Center for Cambodian Civic Education, called it "cold-blooded murder."
Initial police reports claimed that Wutty had been armed and exchanged fire with police, but it was later determined that an officer had shot the unarmed Wutty following an argument about the journalists' memory card containing photos of the deforested site.
The officer who killed Wutty reportedly committed suicide after discovering that the activist had died.
Wutty's bereaved wife, Sam Chanthy, said "her husband had been at the exact site of his death in Koh Long province little more than a month ago, where he had been in conflict with military police officers as he attempted to examine a cache of illegally logged timber."
“I think there were third persons involved with my husband’s killing. They prepared a plot to kill him because his work was affecting their interests," Chanthy said.
“Those people were not happy with my husband and his work …so they planned to kill him when he went there again."
The two journalists Wutty was escorting — Cambodian Phorn Bopha and Canadian Olesia Plokhii, on assignment for the Cambodia Daily — were detained for questioning and released Friday.
Patrick Alley, director of international natural resource watchdog Global Witness, said 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.”