01 May 2012


A place where heroes die

Video by Fran Lambrick of Rubbernaut

Several news articles have drawn parallels between the assassination of Chea Vichea and the murder of Chut Wutty just a few days ago, and rightly so.

Wutty, director of the Natural Resources Protection Group, was shot dead by military police who were apparently guarding a facility of the Timbergreen Company, a mysterious entity involved in clearing land in Koh Kong. The murder took place in the presence of two reporters from The Cambodia Daily. Their gripping account is here.

If you've seen Who Killed Chea Vichea? you'll see a chilling similarity in the short video above, in which Wutty explains why he spent twenty years fighting deforestation — twenty years that ended on Thursday, April 26, deep in the forests of Mondul Seima district.

"The killing is having explosive ramifications, and the parallels with the killing of Chea Vichea are enormous," writes Luke Hunt in The Diplomat. "Chut Vuthy had been prominent in uncovering the secret sell-off of state forests, illegal rosewood harvesting and land grabs in the area where a Chinese dam is being built."

Hunt interviews Bradley Cox, the director of Who Killed Chea Vichea?, who adds:
"He reminds me quite a bit of labor leader Chea Vichea. Both were outspoken, both were willing to stand up for what they believe despite threats and harassment, and both paid the price for their convictions.
"I think there’s a message in this for Cambodians, and that’s to keep your head down and your mouth shut. Most people take this message to heart. There are very few that don’t and that’s what makes guys like Chut Vuthy and Chea Vichea special.
"They gain the admiration of the Cambodian people, but also the ire of the powers that be. And as much as I hate to say it, I doubt this tragedy will be the last."
In AFP coverage, opposition politician Mu Sochua also related the two cases.
Not since the 2004 daylight murder of union leader Chea Vichea has Cambodia lost an activist as influential as Chhut Vuthy, she added, accusing donor countries of "making no noise" in support of ordinary Cambodians' rights. 
"I want to be optimistic, I want to see hope but I'm afraid there is no more Chea Vichea, and there is no more Chhut Vuthy," she said. "They cannot be replaced. That is the aim of those who ordered the killings."
Mu Sochua is right. Just as Cambodia's exploiters are stripping the country bare of the resources the people need in order to survive, they are stripping the country bare of the heroes who fight for a better future. Vichea, Wutty and so many others cannot be replaced, but their work can be carried on.

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