Anti-logging activist shot dead in Cambodian forest

A prominent Cambodian activist was fatally shot in a remote forest Thursday while documenting illegal logging in a clash that also killed a military police officer, authorities said.

Chhut Vuthy, president of the Natural Resource Conservation Group, was escorting two female reporters from a Cambodian newspaper when a dispute erupted, said Kheng Tito, spokesman for the national military police.

"There was a shooting incident when there was a clash between military police on duty to protect the forest and an environmental team, leading to the deaths of activist Chhut Vuthy and a military police official," he told AFP.

Vuthy, 43, and one military police officer received gun shot wounds in the incident in a forest in southwestern Koh Kong province and died shortly afterwards in hospital.

Koh Kong provincial military police chief, Thong Narong, confirmed the deaths but details of the incident remain unclear and officials were unable to say how the dispute escalated and who had fired the shots.

Vuthy, who received military police training, was known to carry arms, activists told AFP.

Kheng Tito said the two reporters from the English-language Cambodia Daily, one Cambodian and one Ukrainian, would be questioned.

Kevin Doyle, the paper's editor-in-chief, confirmed to AFP that both women were unharmed but said he was unable to give further details of the incident at this stage.

A military police source in the province said the row appeared to have erupted when the officer tried to confiscate a camera memory stick from the team.

"Vuthy was a long-time activist on forestry issues," said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights. "He was a very brave man."

Land disputes, including forced evictions and protests against illegal logging, have been on the rise in recent years in Cambodia and have become increasingly violent although they rarely result in deaths.

Over the last six months local human rights group Licadho documented five shooting incidents involving land activists, causing 19 injuries, though the last death was in April 2010.

Environmental groups and human rights campaigners have long accused the Cambodian government of selling off land to the highest bidder.

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