Cambodian environmental activist Chut Wutty was shot on April 26, 2012 in the Central Cardamom Protected Forest (CCPF), investigating illegal logging in the conservation area. The CCPF, covering 402,000ha, is among the largest conservation areas in Cambodia, extending itself over various districts. With its great biodiversity, including many endemic and endangered species such as Asian elephants and Siamese Crocodiles, it can be counted among the richest forests in Southeast Asia. Available resin trees are further important income sources of the local population. The Cardamom Forests are also well known for its old growth timber, including precious rosewood with a market value of $5000-$8000 per cubic meter. This has made the area a central target for illegal logging, provoking a rosewood rush, driven largely by highly organized criminal networks, operating on a large scale (1).
Chut Wutty - Cambodia’s most active environmentalist against illegal logging who helped establishing the CCPF in 2001 - investigated illegal logging in the Thma Bang district, where it was believed to be a highly organized crime, with checkpoints, individual loggers, middlemen, and corruption of police and military (1). Locals stated that a company was buying the rosewood, which Wutty alleged to be Timbergreen, a Cambodian registered firm, owning a license to clear a close-by forest area within the CCPF for the construction of the Tatai Hydropower Dam project (1). Timbergreen was alleged to use their license to establish a legal headquarter in the area, but then to expand its activities to illegal rosewood logging outside the granted area, based on a highly organized network of loggers, traders, corrupted police and so on. Timbergreen was also alleged to process yellow wine to safrol oil, a substance forbidden under Cambodian law, but used in traditional Khmer medicine as well as a precursor for the production of ecstasy-like drugs (2).
Wutty’s actions against these illegal activities included public patrols and marches with the local population, burning of illegally cut timber, and a close-up investigation of Timbergreen. He was supported by locals who had lost their Resin trees, however, also faced resistance by corrupted police and even NGOs. For example, Conservation International’s (CI) local office denied any large-scale logging, blaming it to be caused by migrant workers and small traders, despite of large contrary evidence, such as spotting of several trucks leaving the district with Rosewood. (CI was also involved elsewhere in Cambodia in suspicious action. In 2009 a forestry administration officer working for CI was arrested after illegally trading timber to the Cambodian border) (1). Journalists investigating the case received commonly threats of arms and violence, or were denied to access the area.
On April 26, 2012, Chut Wutty visited the area to make pictures of the company’s activities, accompanied by two other journalists. A local security officer demanded Wutty to hand him out the memory card, but he refused to do it, for which he was shot dead by the officer, who in turn was unintentionally shot by another officer. A few months later, a trial followed, lasting merely one-and-a half hours, in which the case was dropped “because the murderer was also shot to death” (3). Local rights groups claimed the trial to be a mockery, calling for the need to investigate Timbergreen, under which name the officer killed Wutty. A series of protests and popular marches followed. Followers across Cambodia hope that Chut Wutty’s death will bring at least sufficient attention to the case to help stop illegal logging in Cambodia.