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Illegal rosewood logging in the Cardamom Mountains and killing of forest activist Chut Wutty, Cambodia


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.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Illegal rosewood logging in the Cardamom Mountains and killing of forest activist Chut Wutty, Cambodia
State or province:Koh Kong
Location of conflict:Russey Chrum village, Thma Bang District
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Logging and non timber extraction
Specific commodities:Timber
yellow vine

Project Details and Actors

Project details

This conflict is not related to a single project, but rather to diverse illegal activities. Below, some quantitative information, where available, is provided for related issues.

Illegal logging in Thma Bang district is a complex issue involving many different actors. Large-scale loggers are associated to highly organized criminal networks that transport rosewood out the area via trucks. Villagers estimate that around 2000 loggers are active in the area and that during peak logging season, around 80 to 90 trucks leave the area every night (1).

A cubic meter costs around $5000-8000 and the whole illegal business is estimated to be a several hundred thousand dollar business (1).

Migrant workers and probably local villagers also engage in small-scale activities, such as collecting rosewood stumps and logging leftovers, which are further traded on a minor scale. Local traders pay around 1,500 riels/kg of leftovers (1), corresponding to around 0,4$, which is more or less 20% of the daily salary of an agricultural worker, working on farms of others.

In an interview, Chut Wutty estimated that around 400,000 resin trees, which provide crucial local incomes, have been logged in the area (see video).

Timbergreen has a concession to clear a forest area within the Cardamom Forests for the construction of the Stung Tatai Hydropower Dam, carried out and funded by the firm China National Heavy Machinery. The hydropower dam has a supposed capacity of 246 megawatt (1). The concessions area for clearing the forest, corresponding to the dam reservoir area, amounts to around 2000ha (4)

The whole Central Cardamom Protected Forest conservation area expands over 402,000ha. Thma Bang district is believed to be only one of four sides in which illegal logging activities are organized (1).

Project area:402,000 (protected area)
Level of Investment for the conflictive projectunknown
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:unknown
Start of the conflict:01/01/2001
Company names or state enterprises:Timbergreen from Cambodia - illegal logging, logging, timber, rosewood, yellow vine
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:NRPG Natural Resource Protection Group
ARA Arbeitsgemeinschaft Regenwald und Artenschutz
CCHR Cambodian Center for Human Rights
LICADHO Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights
ADHOC Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Property damage/arson


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Soil erosion
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Strengthening of participation
Violent targeting of activists
Application of existing regulations
Forest activist Chut Wutty was killed on April 26, 2012
Proposal and development of alternatives:This has been a fight against illegal activities. A major alternative development against illegal logging was the establishment of the protected area CCPF (Central Cardamom Protected Forest) in 2001, in which Chut Wutty was involved. This was however before the conflict escalated.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:There has been heavy illegal logging, and attempts to investigate this led to the killing of activist Chut Wutty. His killing has never been properly investigated.

Sources & Materials

Article from the journalist who accompanied Chut Wutty the day he was killed

Chut Wutty on Wikipedia

(3) Phnom Penh Post Article: Court drops Wutty case

(4) Phnom Penh Post Article: Timbergreen official questioned in Chut Wutty shooting

(1) Phnom Penh Post article: logging-wild-west

(2) Phnom Penh Post article: Chut Wutty slaying puts timbergreen logging in spotlight

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Australia news report on the death of Chut Wutty

Short video on the life and death of Chut Wutty

Meta information

Contributor:A. Scheidel (ICTA) / arnim.scheidel "at"
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:1767



Chut Wutty burning illegally logged timber

Foto credits: Phnom Penh Post: