A Change of Guard

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Thursday, 24 May 2012

Death in the Forest [Chut Wutty's murder on Australian TV]

Watch the video below: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMXgaMwEejo
"It's like war, it's a front line and if you stand up against a real Mafia organisation which is what it is... you live dangerously." - Marcus Hardtke, Environmental Campaigner

Three weeks ago one of Asia's leading environmental activists was gunned down in Cambodia. Chut Wutty had been documenting illegal logging in the protected Cardamom Forest, one of the last remaining pristine areas in south-east Asia. What it was that he found and who killed him is clouded in mystery, within a day of Wutty being killed David O'Shea was flying into Cambodia to pick up on the trail of Wutty's execution.

 REPORTER: David O’Shea
Transcript: SBS Dateline

They came from far and wide to farewell Cambodia's eco warrior. Chut Wutty was a soldier turned environmental activist - a defender of the forests and an arch enemy of the business interests exploiting them.

SAM CHANTHY (Translation): He was very, very brave. He wasn’t afraid of anyone, because he thought he was doing the right thing.

Wutty was shot and killed in a jungle clearing in a remote and lawless corner of the country. He had been investigating in an area where illegal logging is rife. But many here believe he may have uncovered something else.

SAM CHANTHY (Translation): I want to appeal to people inside and outside Cambodia to find justice for my husband, because he was killed unjustly.

MARCUS HARDTKE, ENVIRONMENTAL CAMPAIGNER: What happened is that we reached the stage in Cambodia where people get killed for looking at things and they get killed by government officials working for an illegal raquet.

Marcus Hardtke had a close and unique partnership with Wutty in the battle to protect Cambodia's natural resources. He has been flying under the radar for years as an investigator for environmental campaign organisations working behind the scenes, he was channelling funds to Wutty, who was active on the ground.

MARCUS HARDTKE: It's a risky job. It's like war. It's a front line and if you stand up against a real Mafia organisation which is what it is, it's textbook organised crime, you live dangerously.

CHUT WUTTY (Translation): Let’s get to the point.

MAN (Translation): No need, you are in my territory.

CHUT WUTTY (Translation): Can you listen to me? Just listen to me for ten minutes.

Whether it was arguing the point with officials trying to shut down his workshops on human rights, confronting illegal loggers and photographing them in the act, or out in the forests leading and inspiring protests, Wutty had many enemies.

ALLAN MICHAUD, PHOTOGRAPHER AND FILM-MAKER: He's a huge loss. He really is a massive loss. I have never met anyone so utterly dedicated to what they are doing.

Wildlife photographer and film maker Allan Michaud also worked closely with Wutty and says his military background made him a force to be reckoned with. Allan took this footage last year as Wutty led villagers on patrol through their supposedly protected forest home.

CHUT WUTTY (Translation): Do you want to see the timber?

VILLAGERS (Translation): Yes!

After discovering a stockpile of unmarked illegal timber they took drastic action.

CHUT WUTTY (Translation): Let’s start work, pile everything up and burn it.

ALLAN MICHAUD: Nobody knew whose it was and they decided to burn it, which is what they have been doing a lot of up there. Shortly after setting fire to it the local Police Chief turned up.

Things got ugly.

POLICE (Translation): Beat him! Everyone grab him.

That's Wutty on the ground.

POLICE (Translation): Get out!

ALLAN MICHAUD: Then they tried to grab Wutty and arrest him. At that point the protesters jumped to his aid. They grabbed sticks. Despite the fact they are facing people with AK47s they grabbed sticks and tried to defend Wutty.

The villagers managed to get Wutty out, surrounding his car they escorting him to safety.

VILLAGER (Translation): We feel very sad that he gave up his life for the good of the nation.

WOMAN (Translation): I have come to pay my respects to Chut Wutty’s spirit.

We join hundreds of Wutty's friends and colleagues on a pilgrimage to the place he died. As we weave our way through the central Cardamom Mountains, Marcus and Allan are shocked to see how this once dense forest has been opened up.

ALLAN MICHAUD: I had no idea they have gone to this. This was just a tiny little track.

MARCUS HARDTKE: Shows you how quick it can all fade away. Within a few years - boom.

Some of the construction is on a grand scale. Four huge hydro-electric dams are being built here by Chinese business interests. Not far from where Wutty was killed we stop at a fenced compound with two guard towers and flood lights.




REPORTER: Is it timber?

MARCUS HARDTKE: Yeah. It looks a bit like Rosewood, like black wood and it seems to be luxury.

MAN: Hello.

Rosewood sells here at source for thousands of dollars per cubic metre. We are told that the timber behind the fence is legally obtained from the area to be flooded by one of the dams which an employee says they have a permit to clear.

EMPLOYEE (Translation): It is from the tree clearing for the dam that we won the tender and we clear them from there and nowhere else.

The company is called Timbergreen, one of several that Wutty was investigating when he was killed.

EMPLOYEE (Translation): Hello, boss. I’m talking to them. I told them I couldn’t give a longer interview. They keep asking me things, but only normal questions.

Another man shows up and he is looking a little menacing with something hidden under his shirt.

MARCUS HARDTKE: Yeah, they have a certain modus operandi.

Marcus doesn't believe a word what have we have heard. After we drive away he explains why he thinks Timbergreen is running an illegal racket.

MARCUS HARDTKE: It's basically timber laundering. They have a permit for the dam, to cut the reservoir. They are just running all over the mountains and they are paying people to bring them whatever has value - focusing of course on the most valuable stuff first.

A little further on we join the others at the spot where Wutty was killed. It's the site of another Timbergreen operation.

MONK (Translation): This symbolic representation of Wutty was made from the leaves and branches of the trees he loved so much when he was alive. We hope... that Chut Wutty stays in everyone’s mind for ever. True?

CROWD (Translation): Yes!

Two people lost their lives that day, Chut Wutty and a Military Police man. Both were shot dead. Wutty had been escorting two journalists who were looking into illegal activity in the area. They had been taking photographs of a plant called yellow vine and the Military Police man wanted to seize their cameras. Human rights investigators say beyond that there are more questions than answers. They are still wondering how the Military Police man who apparently shot Wutty ended up dead himself.

MAN 2 (Translation): If he collapsed there the blood should have splattered around this area but there was no blood spatter here.

No wonder they are confused. From day 1 the Cambodian authorities have repeatedly changed their version of the story.

GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL (Translation): These are the pictures of Chut Wutty dead in the car. In this one, we’re checking where the bullets hit his body, and looking for evidence.

At first they claimed that Wutty may have fired the first shot. But then it was revealed that while he was armed his pistol's magazine was still full. Then they said that the Military Police man was so wracked by regret after shooting Wutty that he shot himself twice - once in the stomach and once in the chest.

After widespread ridicule of this scenario the government team then came up with their third and final version of events. They said a security officer at Timbergreen, Rann Boroth accidentally shot the Military Policeman, In Ratana, who had just shot Wutty.

GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL (Translation): We can conclude that Chut Wutty was shot by In Ratana, who shot at the car. The bullet ricocheted and struck Chut Wutty, killing him. Rann Boroth tried to wrestle... the gun from In Ratana in order to stop him from shooting again but the gun discharged and struck In Ratana, killing him.

OU VIRAK: We need to find those things out, okay.

Rann Boroth is now scheduled to face trial but human rights groups trying to conduct their own investigations are not impressed.

OU VIRAK: So now they try to put the blame on this guy, Rann Boroth. Was he armed?

MAN: No.

OU VIRAK: So the one guy they arrested as a prime suspect wasn't even - Wasn't armed. For God's sake, the investigators need to be investigated for cover-up, for basically trying to cover up the whole thing.

CROWD (Translation): That’s right, that’s right!

WOMAN (Translation): This land is our land.

CROWD (Translation): That’s right, that’s right!

WOMAN (Translation): We must all resolutely protect our land and forests.

CROWD (Translation): Protect! Protect!

Marcus is determined to find answers.

MARCUS HARDTKE: That's why I really came here - to find out what happened. What is so important over here that people die for it or kill for it?

After a short walk we discover a couple of Timbergreen sawmills. While the company may well have a permit to clear the area to be flooded by the dam we quickly uncover evidence that a lot of Rosewood passed through here. One man confirms that the company pays people to go further into the forest, outside of their concession area to fell valuable trees and bring them here.

MAN (Translation): Yes, they cut it and bring it here to sell.

MARCUS HARDTKE: (Translation): Where do they cut the trees?

MAN (Translation): They go into the forest.

He appears to be jealous that he is not able to make the big money that others are making from the timber they get from outside the concession area.

MARCUS HARDTKE: OK, so many different people come from all over?

MAN: Yeah.

MARCUS HARDTKE: People who don't work for the company, they just come and sell here?

MAN: Yeah.

MARCUS HARDTKE: It's a recurring business model. You get a licence, that gives you sort of a justification for being in the area and then you just go for whatever is profitable. And without oversight, this is what we're seeing. We have seen it with bloody every dam so far - every dam construction had this model.

But there is something else going on here. Everywhere we look there are stacks of a creeper called Yellow Vine and large soaking tanks for processing it.

MARCUS HARDTKE: Wutty was on the right track. His nose was correct. He found the right place.

Marcus has seen set-ups like this before while investigating drug labs on the Thai border.

MARCUS HARDTKE: There is a pretty well established link between Yellow Vine and drug production. Although the details are still a little bit unclear.

REPORTER: So what can you tell us about Yellow Vine? Is it legal or illegal? Huh?

OFFICER (Translation): The owner is not here so I don’t know.

REPORTER: You have no idea? So why are they here? They have no idea about anything. Is it illegal or legal? No idea. Nobody has any clue.

The Cardamom forest has already been plundered from Safrole oil which is extracted from the root bark of the Sassafras tree and used as the primary pre-curser in the manufacture of ecstasy or MDMA.

Dateline understands that Yellow Vine is not on the radar of drug enforcement agencies even though like Safrole, its active compound bears a striking similarity to ecstasy.

ANDREW MCDONALD, BIOLOGIST: This is Ecstasy here – this complex medicinal compound called Berberine – which is the main active ingredient of Yellow Vine. Half of the compound is ecstasy.

Andrew McDonald from the biology department at the University of Texas has been looking at the chemical make-up of Yellow Vine and says it could be used for drug production.

ANDREW MCDONALD: In my opinion it's likely and I base that on not so much the fact it has the back bone of ecstasy in it. I base that on the fact that this extraction effort and the plant product itself disappears. It’s secretive and it’s taking place under armed guard in the recesses of the forest

McDonald has a long connection with Cambodia. He knew Chut Wutty very well from field trips in the Cardamoms and they had spoken about Yellow Vine just one week before his death. Wutty was convinced of the drug link.

ANDREW MCDONALD: Knowing the circumstances of his death that he was killed not but a few minutes after taking pictures of an extraction tank in the middle of the Cardamom Mountains, if you connect the dots it's highly suspect. Where are the tonnes and tonnes of this plant extract going and who is buying it? There is a trail. They say follow the money. Who is doing it? What are they doing with it?

Yellow Vine apparently has a traditional uses a cure for stomach ache but Marcus believes the scale of the forest operation and the secrecy surrounding it is suspicious.

MARCUS HARDTKE: There’s just too much money and high level interests in that stuff to be just a traditional medicine for a few cents.

Dateline put questions on illegal logging and Yellow Vine to Timbergreen but they said they were too busy to respond. According to newspaper reports in Cambodia they deny any involvement in any illegal activities or any connection with Wutty's death. Marcus however has made up his mind.

MARCUS HARDTKE: This is why he got killed, because they didn't want this to become public.

For the government, this case is closed. And a proper investigation into the issues that Wutty wanted to expose has been shut down. But with his death Wutty may have achieved as much as he did in life, throwing light on some of the dark practices going on all around this country.

MARK DAVIS: From the looks of it there is not going to be any justice for Chut Wutty. But you can read more about his life and some of the tributes that have been paid to him worldwide on our website.

Reporter/Camera: DAVID O’SHEA
Translations/Subtitling: SARETH SOUK
Original Music Composed by VICKI HANSEN
Additional footage provided by Allan Michaud and Global Witness


Anonymous said...

Well,this fucking Chinese is operated illegal drugs on Khmer soil to finance the dam project
we shouldn't let this Chinese company stay on Khmer land.The cult breed are Chins&Yuons they used Khmer to kill Khmer.

Hun Sen should revoke their license kick them out of the country and prosecute them for killing Chut Vuthy and In Ratona,yellow vine should ne banned from being cut to make drugs for Chinese to benefits from.

Hun Sen should protect our forest for the next generation to enjoy,it'd took more than 200/300 hundred of years for the trees to grew that magnificent big,Chinese company destroyed in the matters of days/months.

Too sad,to see these magnitudes of forest destructions that benefits foreigners and destroyed poor Khmer livelihood that useto profits from these natural resources.

What can we as Khmer individual do to stop these natural resources destructions [forest] by the foriegner's company that stolen from Khmers and killed khmers heroism (Chut Vuthy)
and displacement of forest Kuy native (Khmers lour) that depending on the forest for their survival.Thanks for this Video of SBS dateline for
exposing this Chinese company operation of ilegal drugs on khmers soil.

What Cpp regime will do about this Chinese company operation of ilegal drugs!? why don't Cpp prosecute this company?......

Kmenh Watt

Anonymous said...

Australia, United Staes of America and Canada; before white people invaded the land there are Indians and other people were there. Does white people killed some of them?

Anonymous said...

Well, if we can prevent them from the killing would you do it? Then and now are difference,
nowadays is modern society not savage society like back then.

Anonymous said...

Chinese can do whatever we want with money. You're bunch of dark monkies need development.

Anonymous said...

Because of Vietnamese master-minded killers and Vietnamese dog Hun Sen (who is a stupid Khmer leader with Vietnamese/Yuon brain), CPP crooks (mostly hidden Yuon/Vietnamese faces) have done the lawless business deal with China in the deceptive ways to develop Cambodia country like that for their own profits and their corruption. They are still the communist master-minded bastards in Cambodia because Cambodia has such an incredible natural resources with a small population (15 millions) who live in the simple lives without being addiction to the power and wealth.

Those Yuon/Vietnamese folks (including a small number of Chinese) are very bad for doing the illegal business and did not not follow the standard rule of laws including the International laws just because they are communists who dare to control Cambodia with a weak Cambodian government. Those folks from Vietnam who learned to speak and write Khmer languages and then work in the CPP government (a secret plan of Vietnamese masters in Hanoi) who are doing slowly to kill innocent and poor Khmer people when it comes to their Vietnamese Communist control over Cambodia. We can see that many Yuon/Vietnamese officials in CPP have been acting like Khmer citizens and behave like Khmer/Cambodian people because they have overseen the largest opportunities to make some millions or billions of dollars as you have seen them (Yuon/Vietnamese) in higher offices of corrupted CPP regimes. Many of them (Vietnamese officials as Khmer citizens) look so fat and very ugly with big bellies. Yes, they (Yuon/Vietnamese) have been controlling the stupid and blind Khmer leader Hun Sen (including other stooges Heng Samrin and Chea Sim) who has a Yuon/Vietnamese brain (a Kbal Yuon/Vietnam). It is so unbelievable that the Vietnamese dog Hun Sen still does not see the bad things are coming to him and his own Khmer people since the slowing pace of killing Khmer people in the next several years or decades to come. How did or do they (the Vietnamese master-minded killers or bosses in Hanoi and secret Yuon/Vietnamese CPP officials) kill Khmer people in the today Cambodia under the CPP regime led by the blind Khmer leader (Ah Kwuck/Kwack) Hun Sen? Well, they (Vietnamese) know their strategies to use chemicals and poisons in food, water, drink, products (like soap, lipsticks, pills for headaches, etc.) and beyond the real problems coming from the master-minded killers of Vietnam Hanoi and secret/hidden Yuon/Vietnamese faces in Cambodian People Party (CPP).

Anonymous said...

Cont'd from 24 May 2012 6:49 AM

There are many hidden faces in Khmer/Cambodian military uniforms beating and hurting innocent Khmer people, showing and fooling the worl, tourist or foreigners that Khmer/Cambodian people killing their own Cambodian/Khmer people. Yes, Yuon/Vietnamese folks, masters and followers of Ho Chi Minh know their games and tricks, but Khmer people should know their tricks and games. Those evil Yuon/Vietnamese want to have Cambodian land and natural resources and they dream one day that they will have the entire Cambodian country. Folks, this is not going to happen to their Vietnamese dreams following their Ho Chi Minh's footsteps because they are not like America (the U.S.) to dream about their opportunity to become successful, but they are real Communist with no democracy or freedoms.

There are many Khmer people not thinking properly and carefully about the enemies (esp., Yuon/Vietnamese) hiding behind their backs or in their backyards. Khmer people need to think straight and be aware of what and how sweet the enemies are. Sometimes, some of Khmer folks are stupid enough to lead the country because of Vietnam manipulations and deception to make them (stupid and blind Khmer/Cambodian folks)look like a leader to lead Khmer/Cambodian people because of their power and wealth additions including womanization coming from Yuon/Vietnam to fool Khmer men who are so stupid as you have seen one of examples about the stupid Kind Sihanouk in our Khmer history.

There are wealthy Khmer folks who have forgotten about the enemies fooling them because they (wealthy Khmer) are so naive and blind to let the Vietnamese/Yuon to destroy and kill them to take wealth and properties.

Khmer people need to wake up and do something to Cambodia country and Cambodian/Khmer people.


Anonymous said...

Correction for 24 May 2012 6:49 AM

Cont'd from 24 May 2012 6:49 AM

There are many hidden Yuon/Vietnamese faces in Khmer/Cambodian military uniforms beating and hurting innocent Khmer people, showing and fooling the world, tourist or foreigners that Khmer/Cambodian people killing their own

Anonymous said...

I think Chut Wutty was killed because he had found out a drug factory in the area. As the professor said it in the TV documentary, yellow vines had the same chemical compound as sassafras trees which was extracted into sassafras oil to make ecstasy tablets. I think yellow vines were also used to make ecstasy like sassafras oil because of the close connections in their chemical compound and because in the video we can see many storage tanks which stored oil extracted from yellow vines not far from where Chut Wutty was killed. The Cambodian government should prosecute Timbergreen, not only for illegal logging, but also for the production of illicit drug. But I don't think Timbergreen will be prosecuted because the owner, Try Pheap, is the god-brother of Hun Sen's wife, Bun Rany. So, is there a connection between this illegal logging and, possible, drug production and Hun Sen. Is Hun Sen involved with drug production here and before? We remember that in 1997 a ship belonging to one of his so-called "financial advisors", Mong Reththy, was found to have loaded with 7 tonnes of marijuana ready to be exported overseas. Ho Sok, secretary of state of Interior Ministry, wanted to arrest Mong Reththy but Hun Sen warned that anyone who wanted to arrest Mong Reththy have to wear a "steel helmet"- meaning that he will be killed if he dare to arrest Mong Reththy. Not along after, during the coup in July 1997, Ho Sok was captured from a Singaporean Embassy, where he was hiding, taken to detain at a building at the Ministry of Interior and shot dead by, presumably, Hok Lundy, Cambodia's National Police Commissioner.

I think Chut died with the same fate as Ho Sok 15 years ago.