PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — The Cambodian military said Friday it was closing its investigation into a shooting that occurred in a forest rife with illegal logging, concluding one of its own police officers killed a prominent environmentalist then took his own life.
Chut Wutty had been taking photographs in a forest where a Chinese company is building a hydropower dam, and he refused to stop when officer In Ratana asked him to, military police spokesman Kheng Tito said. The two men then started arguing and cursing each other, until In Ratana shot Chut Wutty with his AK-47 assault rifle.
"When he learned that Chut Wutty died, he killed himself with his own weapon," the spokesman said.
The death of Chut Wutty, the director of the National Resources Protection Group, had outraged human rights and environmental groups. A Cambodian rights group, the Center for Cambodian Civic Education, described it as "cold-blooded murder."
Illegal logging is rampant in Cambodia, and often occurs under the protection of government agencies or important persons, environmental groups have charged. In recent years, protests against land grabs by rich and influential people have often been suppressed by deadly force.
Patrick Alley, director of Global Witness, said the shooting exposed the risks environmental activists in Cambodia face "in the most shocking and tragic manner."
In Kong Chet, of the Cambodian human rights group Licadho, said the confrontation occurred when Chut Wutty refused to hand over a memory card containing photos taken in a protected forest notorious for illegal logging.