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Top Cambodian activist dead after police shoot-out

by Reuters
Thursday, 26 April 2012 12:40 GMT

(Corrects nationality of one of the reporters, paragraph 6)

By Prak Chan Thul

PHNOM PENH, April 26 (Reuters) - A prominent Cambodian anti-logging activist who helped expose a secretive state sell-off of national parks was fatally shot on Wednesday in a remote southwestern province, said police.

Chut Wutty, director of the Phnom Penh-based environmental watchdog Natural Resource Protection Group, died after military police opened fire near a Chinese-built hydroelectric dam in Koh Kong, said Colonel Kheng Tito, a spokesman for the National Military Police.

A military police officer was also killed, he said, adding that Chut Wutty was 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 a gunfire."

"Both sides were injured and later died in hospital," he said.

Military police detained two journalists from the Cambodian Daily who had been travelling with Chut Wutty, according to Kevin Doyle, the newspaper's editor in chief, who called for the safe return of Cambodian reporter Phorn Bopha and Canadian Olesia Plokhii.

The two were now "in the company of the army or military police in the forest," said Doyle.

Chut Wutty, who was in his forties and leaves a wife and two children, had a reputation for speaking out against logging and corruption by government and big business.

He campaigned against the government's granting of so-called economic land concessions to scores of companies to develop land in national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.

He was particularly critical of Cambodia's military police, who are often deployed to protect private business interests.

Kheng Tito said that his officer had encountered Chut Wutty while patrolling the area against "forest crimes."

"Chut Wutty was also an activist against forest crimes, we don't know how it became like this," he said.

The destruction of Cambodia's forests and the forced eviction of rural families by armed men connected to influential businessmen was "so sad," Chut Wutty told Reuters in February during an investigation in Koh Kong not far from where he was shot.

Chut Wutty's death is a "tragedy," said Neang Boratino, a coordinator in Koh Kong province for the respected Cambodia Human Rights and Development Organization(ADHOC). "This is a threat to all forestry forestry activists who work for the preservation of the nature," he said.

The dam, built by China National Heavy Machinery, is located in a lawless area well-known for illegal logging, he added.

Chut Wutty is the most prominent activist to meet a violent death since Chea Vichea, a labour leader who fought for better pay and conditions for garment workers until his 2004 assassination. (Writing By Andrew R.C. Marshall, Editing by Jonathan Thatcher)

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