The Sound of Trees Falling

Colombia's natural resources are under threat-so are the people trying to protect them

“HURRY UP—YOU’RE TOO SLOW!” shouted Chut Wutty. It was the morning of 26 April, 2012, and the 48-year-old environmental activist was nervous. He had been driving through the jungles of Koh Kong for three days with two Cambodia Daily reporters, Olesia Plokhii and Phorn Bopha, and he had one last thing to show them. In the heart of the Cardamom Mountains, he believed yellow vine, a creeper known for its therapeutic properties, was collected and processed in violation of forestry law, under the protection of military police.

Of the events that occurred on that morning, the most lucid account available is the story Plokhii published in The Daily Beast, details of which she reiterated in an email interview. (Phorn refused interview requests.) According to Plokhii, Wutty led the reporters to an area in the forest where hundreds of feet of yellow vine had been cut and stored. All three took photographs as evidence. Returning to their jeep to leave the area, they were suddenly surrounded by four Kalashnikov-brandishing military policemen, who demanded that they hand over their cameras. A struggle ensued and the cameras were seized. With the evidence confiscated, it seemed they were free to go. However, their car wouldn’t start. Plokhii alighted from the car to help Wutty start the car, when she heard shots ring out, though she didn’t see who fired them. In panic, Plokhii and Phorn fled into the forest. When they emerged, minutes later, they saw the lifeless body of a military officer on the ground, in front of the car. The driver’s door was open and Wutty was in the seat, shot in the stomach, his khakhi shirt stained with blood. He was dead.

The reporters waited, fearing for their own lives, as other officers arrived at the scene. Finally, they were picked up and escorted away by an acquaintance.

Alexandre Marchand is a French freelance journalist, previously based in Bangkok for the long form and investigation magazine Asies. He primarily covers India and Southeast Asia for French publications.

Clothilde Le Coz is a French freelance journalist based in Phnom Penh. She is Reporters Without Borders’ correspondent in Cambodia and former head of its Washington bureau.

Keywords: Chut Wutty environment Koh Kong illegal logging sand export Ly Yong Phat Mong Reththy natural resources