Cambodian Villagers Honor Slain Environmentalist

By The Associated Press 14 May 2012

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia—A prominent environmentalist who was fatally shot last month after investigating illegal logging was mourned on Friday by more than 500 villagers who gathered in a forest the activist had sought to protect.

The ceremony was held the same day a UN special envoy completed a fact-finding mission on land disputes in Cambodia, which have stirred up violence and social unrest.

The memorial for Chut Wutty was held in Koh Kong province at the site where the activist was killed after taking two journalists to look at a logging camp where a Chinese company is building a hydropower project.

Chut Wutty’s killing on April 26 drew worldwide condemnation and highlighted conflicts over land in Cambodia.

“We want to send a very clear message to the illegal loggers that we are not afraid of them,” ceremony organizer and rights activist Ou Virak said in a telephone interview.

The government says a military policeman shot Chut Wutty during a heated argument, and then killed himself as a colleague tried to wrest his gun away from him.

Human rights and environmental groups have demanded a full investigation.

Chut Wutty was aggressive in his work, and environmentalists say he earned powerful enemies. Illegal logging is rampant in Cambodia, and often occurs under the protection of government agencies or important people, environmental groups have charged. Some protests against land grabs by influential people in recent years have been suppressed with deadly force.

On Monday, Prime Minister Hun Sen sought to ease political pressure over the issue by issuing a directive suspending new land concessions to private companies and ordering a review of existing ones.

UN human rights envoy Surya Subedi, speaking to the press after an eight-day visit, praised Hun Sen’s directive as a step in the right direction, but said stressed that it must be implemented.

He said he was shocked by Chut Wutty’s killing and also worried “about the trend of using violence and live ammunition against human rights defenders.” He said he had expressed his concern to Cambodian officials.

Subedi, who is due to make a formal report on the land issue later this year to the UN Human Rights Council, said in his initial findings that Cambodia’s system of land concessions appears riddled with problems.

He cited low transparency and minimal consultation with affected communities. He also cited improper land grabs and occasional violence by concession-holders.