Cambodia Arrest in Activist Shooting: Rights Group
Phnom Penh. A Cambodian court on Friday charged a security guard with involuntary homicide in a mysterious shooting that left a prominent activist and a military police officer dead, a rights group said.
The involvement of a third party appears to debunk officials’ original claim that environmental activist Chhut Vuthy was gunned down on April 26 by the military policeman who then killed himself with two shots to the chest.
The death of Vuthy, who was gathering evidence of illegal logging in a remote forest, sent shockwaves through the country and prompted international calls for an impartial investigation.
Details of the shooting in southwestern Koh Kong province remain unclear but local rights group Licadho told AFP that investigators now believed the officer killed Vuthy and was then shot with his own gun during a scuffle with security guard Ran Boroth who tried to disarm him.
The military police officer is believed to have killed Vuthy when a confrontation broke out over the confiscation of the activist’s camera’s memory card.
“(The security guard) was charged by the court with unintentional killing and is now in pre-trial detention,” In Kong Chet, a provincial coordinator for Licadho who is monitoring the case, said.
He added that Ran Boroth, 26, worked for Timbergreen, a company licensed to log the reservoir site for a Chinese-funded dam near the area where the confrontation occurred.
It is unclear why the military policeman was in the forest at the time but Cambodian military personnel are routinely hired by private firms to act as security guards.
Court officials could not be reached for comment, but provincial deputy military police commander Sun Samoeun confirmed the arrest.
Campaigners say Cambodia has recently seen a worrying rise in violence against citizens involved in land and labour disputes, resulting in a number of injuries, often at the hands of armed government security forces.
Outspoken Vuthy, who inspired villagers to conduct forest patrols to monitor deforestation and illegal logging, is the most high-profile activist to have died since the 2004 daylight murder of union leader Chea Vichea.