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Cambodia's military accused of silencing dissent
James Oaten reports on renewed pressure against Cambodia's military, after the killing of a high profile environment activist.

Cambodia's military are being forced to defend their conduct, after the killing of a high profile environment activist.

Chut Wutty was shot dead by a military police officer, as he escorted two journalists to a site where illegal logging was allegedly taking place.

His supporters say the killing is just another example of the military in Cambodia using gunfire to suppress dissent.

James Oaten reports.
(Footage of Chut Wutty being attacked by police then forced back by protestors)

JAMES OATEN, REPORTER: Chut Wutty had become accustomed to police attention. His high profile activism against illegal logging and forced evictions made him a target.

But he also had strong grass roots support. In this rare footage, filmed last year police, are being seen forced by protestors who come to Chut Wutty's aid.

CHHOEUY ODOMRAKSMEY, CHUT WUTTY'S SON (translation): Chut Wutty was a good father to me. He was a person who loved natural resources in Cambodia and in the entire world. He always talked to me when he went into the forest and the dangers he would face. He's a soldier.

JAMES OATEN: Chut Wutty's death sparked an outpouring of grief in Cambodia and caused widespread negative publicity for the government.

He was shot by a soldier who the military initially said then turned the gun on himself, but a later statement said the man was actually killed by another soldier nearby.

Many didn't believe either of these accounts, forcing the government to use the courts to investigate the case. But the hearing is being held behind closed doors.

KHENG TITO, CAMBODIAN MILITARY SPOKESMAN (translation): The killing of Chut Wutty did not come under anyone's order. The shooting happened due to a personal dispute between a military police officer and Chut Wutty.

The shooting was not directed at Chut Wutty. It was just a warning shot, but somehow the bullet went through the car and killed him.

JAMES OATEN: Shortly after Chut Wutty's funeral, hundreds of protestors held prayers at the scene of the killing, vowing to continue his fight.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN (translation): His death is a great loss to the community because he's a great person.

JAMES OATEN: Logging enforced evictions have become commonplace in Cambodia. The government has often defended such practices as necessary to develop the impoverished nation with rubber plantations, mining projects and hydro dams. But anti-logging activists say the deals advantage the powerful at the expense of the poor.

(Footage of military opening fire on protestors)

In the past three years the human rights group has documented at least six cases of the military opening fire on protestors injuring around 20 people. There are several more cases of alleged police brutality.

(Image of dead 14-year-old girl is shown)

Just this month a 14 year old girl was shot dead during a clash between protestors and police in the village of Kratie.

NALY PILORGE, DIRECTOR OF LICADHO CAMBODIA: More than a third of staff that work at LICADHO (Cambodian League for the Prevention and Defense of Human Rights) are what we call monitors, which are people who respond to abuses, violence, crimes and so on.

KHENG TITO (translation): Some cases have nothing to do with military police but more to do with personal problems. So you cannot brand the whole military unit because one person has done something contravening the law.

JAMES OATEN: In 2010 the Cambodian government established a program allowing corporations to sponsor military units, saying it would provide much needed welfare for Cambodian troops. Dozens of companies have signed up to the program, ranging from timber and agricultural companies to international banks.

But opponents say the program has created a guns for hire situation.

OU VIRAK, CAMBODIAN CENTRE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: The military should not be for sale. Cambodia should not be for sale. And the rights of the people should therefore, not be put in the hands of the military to decide or the corporations to decide who will get harassed or shot and how they will be dealt with.

JAMES OATEN: Ou Virak says the relationship between the military and civilians has dived since corporations were allowed to sponsor the army and that the number of violent clashes escalated.

OU VIRAK: First of all, it is not right for the government to use military to suppress any protests because the villagers do have the right to peacefully protest. The government should stop treating its people as the enemies.

JAMES OATEN: It is a charge the military denies.

KHENG TITO (translation): If the businesses make donations to us in good faith that's great. But if they make donations to us and then seek favours from us or expect to use us to serve their interests, they can't do that. We exist to serve the nation.

JAMES OATEN: The government recently suspended the granting of land to domestic and foreign companies in a move to curb forced evictions and illegal logging. But activists say the temporary measure doesn't go far enough and are calling for a permanent ban.

There's also renewed pressure on the government to reform the military, in particular, abandon its military sponsor program.
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