Cambodian security forces kill teenage girl during clash with villagers armed with axes and crossbows

 

Phnom Penh

Security forces in Cambodia have killed a teenage girl during a clash with villagers armed with axes and crossbows in the latest of a series of violent evictions aimed at clearing land for development.

Reports said that during a clash between up to 400 soldiers and police and villagers in Kratie province in the east of the country, a 15-year-old girl was badly injured. She subsequently died of her injuries in hospital, according to the Associated Press.

Provincial official Sar Chamrong said government forces had secured the area and were hunting for five accused ringleaders who had escaped. He claimed the protesters were trying to set up a self-governing zone outside of the law. Authorities say the land is owned by the government, but villagers say the previously state-owned land already has been awarded to a Russian company.

Cambodia’s system of land concessions, which campaigners say is riddled with corruption, became an international issue and the focus of a UN inquiry last month, following the killing of a high profile environmental activist. Under intense pressure, Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a directive a week ago suspending new concessions to private companies and ordering a review of existing ones. The move was announced during a visit by a UN human rights envoy.

The envoy’s visit followed the killing last month of 46-year-old Chut Wutty, who headed the National Resources Protection Group and had exposed a series of logging scandals involving corrupt officials. He was shot dead by security forces as he escorted journalists from a local newspaper to investigate alleged illegal activities in Koh Kong province. After an altercation with military police, he was killed by an officer. Police initially claimed the officer subsequently shot himself in a fit of remorse.

The killing of the father-of-two stunned activists in Cambodia and beyond. Few believe the police’s explanation for his death and as more details have emerged, the story has looked increasingly unlikely. The EU and UN have called for an independent inquiry.

Chut Wutty’s wife, Sam Chanthy, told The Independent she did not believe what she had been told. “After my husband’s death, I’ve had fear and worry about the safety of my children and myself,” she said. “My husband used to be the main bread-winner for the family, but after he’s gone I don’t know what it’ll be like. It’ll be very difficult for me to bring up two daughters and one son alone.”

She added: “On the day when I was told of my husband’s death, I was very shocked as if something pierced through my chest and my heart was taken away from me. He died on his mission to save the country.”

Chut Wutty was killed while travelling in the Cardamom Mountains in the country’s south-west. He and the reporters from The Cambodia Daily had apparently stopped to take photographs when they were approached by armed men who demanded they delete their cameras’ memory cards. A report subsequently published in the newspaper said that after a protracted argument, the activist was shot while sitting in his car.

The two female reporters who then ran for cover and say they did not see who did the shooting, said two shots were fired. When they returned to the vehicle they saw the body of a military policeman, later identified as In Rattana, sprawled next to the car. The women tried first-aid to save Mr Wutty but the armed men did nothing to help.

“Despite the lack of clarity about what exactly happened, we are very concerned that the killing of Mr Wutty marks the latest and most lethal in a series of gun attacks on human rights defenders in Cambodia,” Rupert  Colville, a spokesman for the UN human rights office, told reporters in Geneva. “We urge the royal government to ensure that a full civilian judicial investigation proceeds speedily and with the utmost probity and independence.”

Campaigners in Cambodia have picked apart the explanations of the circumstances surrounding the shooting of Mr Wutty, on April 26. Police initially said the activist was killed in an exchange of gunfire but later said he had been killed by In Rattana, a military police officer who then shot himself.

But when campaigners pointed out that In Rattana had suffered two gunshot injuries – unlikely in a suicide – a third explanation was offered; namely that after In Rattana shot the activist, one of the other men, a guard employed by a private logging firm, Timbergreen, had rushed forward to try and take the gun from him. As he did so, it accidentally fired twice, striking In Rattana in the chest. According to police, the private guard, Ran Boroth, employed by the company Mr Wutty was investigating, has now been charged with involuntary homicide.

Police have since declared their investigation complete. Spokesman Tith Sothea told reporters in Phnom Penh: “We have shown the truth to the public. So our work is closed for now.”

Campaigners, unimpressed with the pronouncements of the authorities, say the killing of Mr Wutty was the latest in a series of attacks, threats and killings of activists, among them labour-rights campaigner Chea Vichea, who was assassinated in 2004. Mr Wutty had himself received a number of death threats but refused to give up his work highlighting illegal logging, in particular in the Prey Lang forest in the centre of Cambodia. Private logging and agricultural companies, local and foreign, are said to control around 10m acres of land in the country.

Ou Virak, director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, which has investigated Mr Wutty killing, said activists faced both physical and legal threats as they went about their work. “Illegal deforestation is very lucrative. There are huge interests at stake,” he said. “There’s no doubt that those involved [in illegal logging] have links to the government. These people are always connected.”

A 2007 report by the group Global Witness highlighted what it said was a network that linked those involved in illegal logging with the police and military and senior politicians. “Cambodia is run by a kleptocratic elite that generates much of its wealth via the seizure of public assets, particularly natural resources,” the report concluded.

Megan MacInnes of Global Witness said of Mr Wutty’s death: “Sadly there is a long and well-documented history of activists trying to protect Cambodia’s [resources] being attacked and dying. This is not the first.”

The area in which Mr Wutty was killed is currently being cleared by Timbergreen, a private company registered in Cambodia, to make way for two dams to produce hydroelectricity. Construction of the Lower Russey Chrum dams is being carried out two Chinese state-owned firms. Mr Wutty had alleged the company was breaching its licence and cutting trees outside of the area it was permitted to do so.

Timbergreen owners have denied the allegations. The company’s majority shareholder, Khieu Sarsileap, said that the firm only cleared a few logs in the areas it has been given permission to work in. “We are clearing logs only in the reservoir, and even in the reservoir itself, we can’t finish it up; we have to do it fast because we have a contract,” she said.

“In Chut Wutty’s case, I am sorry that it happened to him, but my company wasn't in any way involved in that. Illegal logging is a problem happening throughout the country, and if anybody who is involved in illegal trading of woods or timber tells you that they are from Timbergreen, they are only lying to you.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
news
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Sport
SPORT
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick