A prominent Cambodian environmental activist was fatally shot Thursday in a confrontation with military police near a forest area where illegal logging reportedly takes place, a human rights group and police said.
Military police spokesman Kheng Tito said National Resources Protection Group director Chut Wutty was shot in a clash at a checkpoint in Koh Kong province during which the activist also fatally shot a military police officer.
Kheng Tito said he did not know what caused the violence or who shot first. A member of a human rights group said Chut Wutty was shot when he refused demands to hand over digital photos taken in the forest.
Kheng Tito said the confrontation occurred as Chut Wutty was serving as a guide for two journalists from The Cambodia Daily newspaper, a Canadian and a Cambodian. The journalists were taken to a military police office for questioning, he said.
Illegal logging is rampant in Cambodia, and often occurs under the protection of government agencies or important persons, environmental groups such as London-based Global Witness have charged. In recent years, protests against land grabs by rich and influential people have often been suppressed by deadly force.
In Kong Chet of the human rights group Licadho said Thursday's confrontation occurred when Chut Wutty refused to hand over a memory card with photos taken in the nearby forest by him and the journalists.
He said Chut Wutty had taken the journalists to see large-scale forest destruction and illegal rosewood smuggling, and on the way out of the forest came to a checkpoint where military police demanded the memory card.
Chut Wutty was well known as a forest protection advocate and used to work with Global Witness in the 1990s. The Phnom Penh Post newspaper said he was instrumental in helping it break a story last year about illegal logging and corruption in the same district where he took the journalists this week.
The Club of Cambodian Journalists, a press freedom and professional organization, condemned the shooting of Chut Wutty and urged that his attackers be brought to justice. It also urged the government to guarantee the safety of the two journalists who were with him.