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Rights Groups Demand Investigation into Cambodian Activist's Death

Chut Wutty, a prominent Cambodian anti-logging activist who helped expose a secretive state sell-off of national parks was fatally shot on April 25, 2012 in a remote southwestern province, FILE February 21, 2012.

Rights groups are calling for a full government investigation into the shooting death of a prominent land rights activist in Cambodia. Chut Wutty, an outspoken critic of illegal logging, died after being shot by military police. One police officer also died in the incident which is still under investigation. Wutty's colleagues say the activist had previously received threats.

According to Cambodian rights groups, Wutty was shot in the western province of Koh Kong, near an environmentally sensitive forest area he had spent much of his career trying to protect.

A military police spokesman told local media that officers shot at Wutty, and that one military police officer was killed in the exchange. Officials are still looking into the incident.

Rights groups say the government must ensure a full investigation is conducted by national authorities. Ny Chakrya is head of monitoring with local rights watchdog, ADHOC.

"If the government isn't interested or has no commitment to charge or arrest him, it means the government also has no commitment to protect the forest and has no commitment of the protection of human rights defenders," stated Chakrya.

Activist sensed danger

Chut Wutty was an outspoken critic of illegal logging. He frequently campaigned against government land concessions in protected forest areas. For that, his colleagues say, he gained enemies among trafficking rings and corrupt local officials and police, who stood to benefit from the trade of valuable illegal timber.

"It's such a difficult, very difficult situation. In the forest, in Phnom Penh, who will protect you if you're not friends with authority? That's made 100 times worse if you're in the middle of nowhere. Guns speak louder than anything. When you have weapons, that kind of muscle, then you get your way, in such a wild wild west, wild wild east kind of situation," said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR).

Wutty frequently received threats to his safety because of his advocacy work. Last August, armed police disrupted a human rights training session organized by Wutty for local villagers. Virak says authorities also accused him of incitement for his advocacy work.

"He told one of my colleagues, many times, that he's probably either in jail or he'll be shot. Unfortunately, his own predictions have come true," Virak added. "It's something he understands the risk and he's aware of the risk and still chose to continue to do the work."

Virak says local officials cannot be trusted to conduct an impartial investigation, when military police officers are accused of being involved in the shooting.