Cambodian authorities said Monday that they have established a multiagency committee to investigate the deaths of environmental activist Chut Wutty and a military police officer who allegedly shot him, following calls for an impartial probe into the murky circumstances surrounding the incident.
“Now the government has established a mixed investigating committee to investigate the case in order to clear up everybody’s minds,” military police spokesman Kheng Tito said.
The investigation committee will comprise units from the military police, the Ministry of Inspection, the General Commissioner of the National Police, and the government’s Press and Quick Reaction Unit, he said.
He did not say when the committee’s investigation would begin, as the committee is still being formed.
Chut Wutty was gunned down by a military police officer on Thursday at a checkpoint guarding a logging site near a Chinese-built dam in in Koh Kong province's Modul Seima district while leading two journalists from a local newspaper to show them what he thought were illegal logging activities, according to the military police.
Calls for investigation
The military police officer who allegedly shot him, In Rattana, committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest and stomach with his own AK-47 rifle on seeing Chhut Wuthy dead, Kheng Tito said on Friday.
Kheng Tito had previously given reporters contradictory statements about how In Rattana died, including that he had been shot by Chut Wutty.
He had also said earlier that In Rattana had been killed by his own bullet that ricocheted off of the car driven by Chut Wutty as the military police officer gunned down the activist.
The statements have prompted national outcry over the most high-profile death of a Cambodian activist since the assassination of labor activist Chea Vichea in 2004.
Cheam Yeap, a longtime member of parliament and senior member of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, appealed to the government to investigate the truth about the case, saying that some of the details given so far were hard to believe.
“Normally, it is difficult to aim such a long rifle [and shoot] at oneself. If someone were committing suicide, he would shoot himself in the side of the head or above the eyebrow, piercing through the brain. And it is even more suspicious for investigation that he [supposedly] shot himself twice.”’
“There were surviving witnesses at the scene,” he said, referring to the two Cambodia Daily journalists who were there during the incident. “Therefore, we cannot hide the facts that happened over there."
Cambodian and international human rights watchdogs including LICADHO, ADHOC, and Amnesty International have called for further investigation into the case.
Chut Wutty, who left a wife and two children, was president of Cambodia’s Natural Resources Conservation Group, whose activists had been conducting constant "patrols" in the heart of the Prey Lang forest to check illegal logging and other activities in a bid to protect the sprawling 3,600-square kilometer (1,400-square mile) forest area.
Reported by Zakariya Tin for RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Sok Ry Sum. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.