Authorities in southwestern Cambodia on Thursday detained a second suspect in the killing of a prominent environmentalist, according to a rights group and government officials, amidst calls from Washington to conduct a thorough investigation into the mysterious murder.
No details have yet been released about the new suspect in the homicide of Chut Wutty, a 43-year-old forest-protection activist who was shot dead last week as he led local journalists to what he believed was an illegal logging site in Koh Kong province. Military police officer In Rattana was also found dead at the scene.
The circumstances behind their deaths was unclear.
On Tuesday, Koh Kong provincial military police had taken the Timber Green logging company’s chief of security Rann Borath into custody, days after a multiagency committee was formed to probe the deaths of the two men. He remains a suspect in the case.
Cambodia-based rights group LICADHO said authorities made the second arrest Thursday, but had not brought the man to court yet.
LICADHO senior investigator Am Sam Ath said his group was awaiting further details from the investigating committee.
The director of the Ministry of Interior’s Judicial Department, Mok Chito, confirmed that police had detained a new suspect, but refused to provide any other information.
He said his team had visited the crime scene and interviewed a number of witnesses.
“We have a [new] suspect, but we need more information from witnesses and evidence,” he said.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, the joint investigating committee, which was established by Prime Minister Hun Sen, sent Rann Borath to the Koh Kong provincial court where he was asked to reenact what had occurred at the crime scene.
LICADHO senior investigator Am Sam Ath said that court officials presented evidence while questioning Rann Borath, who is the son of a former provincial forestry official, but did not bring any charges against him.
He said Rann Borath was then transferred back to the provincial prison to await additional questioning.
The investigation committee is said to 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.
The two new suspects highlight the complexity of the case, which has been shrouded in mystery since the two men were shot to death on April 26.
Military police officials had earlier said that Chut Wutty was gunned down by In Rattana, who allegedly committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest and stomach with his own AK-47 rifle on seeing Chut Wutty dead.
The same official 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 2004 assassination of labor activist Chea Vichea, whose killers have never been found.
On Wednesday, Am Sam Ath had said that the earlier reports had been moves meant to protect the “real killer.”
The U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh issued a statement Thursday calling on Cambodia’s government to conduct a thorough investigation into the killings.
“The United States is deeply concerned about the recent incident in Koh Kong province that resulted in the death of Chut Wutty,” the statement read. “Wutty was one of Cambodia’s most prominent environmentalists and staunch human rights defenders.”
“We urge the Cambodian authorities to undertake a thorough, transparent, and credible investigation into this matter. The United States encourages the authorities to prosecute anyone found responsible in a similarly transparent and credible manner.”
Chut Wutty 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.
His widow, Sam Chanthy, has expressed hope that the authorities would find her late-husband’s killer, while his son, Chhoeuy Odomraksmey, has vowed to carry on his father’s work.
Reported by Zakariya Tin for RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.