PHNOM PENH – Cambodian environmentalist Chut Wutty was killed during an investigation into illegal logging in the country’s arcane Cardamom Mountains. A year on, his family is no closer to learning the truth of what happened that fateful day and why. And now, sadly, Chut Wutty’s cause — the protection of Cambodia’s pristine woodland — is under greater threat than ever.
New concessions for plantations and development projects are devastating the nation’s protected forests. On Monday, Global Witness,an advocacy group for which Chut Wutty worked for many years, accused Vietnamese rubber firms allegedly backed by the World Bank and Germany’s Deutsche Bank of driving a land-grabbing crisis.
Chut Wutty, 48 when he died, had been on a collision course with Cambodia’s murky business elite for some time. He was shot during a confrontation with security personnel at a land concession for a 338-megawatt hydropower dam to be built by China Huadian Corp. (CHC), one of China’s largest energy companies. Chut Wutty suspected that the area was being used to launder precious rosewood — loggers would bring felled trees from nearby protected forests, which would then be fraudulently registered as originating from within the concession’s land. An argument broke out and shots were fired. The activist died at the scene after being hit in the stomach and leg. A military policeman was also killed. Security officials were apparently responding to a complaint from CHC that Chut Wutty was taking photographs on private land without permission.