Another Murder on the Resource Frontier
Speaking truth to power is never easy. In some places, particularly where valuable resources are pursued in places with limited governance, it can be deadly.
That has been the case off and on in the Amazon rain forest, as I first described in 1990 in “The Burning Season,” my book on the murder of the forest defender Chico Mendes, and, more recently, in coverage of other killings there.
Now fresh blood appears to have been spilled in the fight over forest resources, this time that of a Cambodian journalist trying to report on forest clearing there. Details are still emerging, but the basics are in an AFP account out of Phnom Penh yesterday. Here’s an excerpt and link:
A Cambodian journalist who exposed rampant illegal logging has been found murdered in the boot of his car, police said Wednesday, in a country where environmental activists often face violent retribution.
Hang Serei Oudom, a reporter at local-language Vorakchun Khmer Daily, was discovered on Tuesday, said senior police officer Song Bunthanorm. The vehicle was abandoned in a cashew nut plantation in northern Ratanakiri province. “It is not a robbery case. It is a murder,” he said, adding that the victim had suffered several blows to the head, probably with an axe.
The 44-year-old had been missing since leaving his home on Sunday evening. “He wrote stories about forest crimes involving business people and powerful officials in the province,” said Vorakchun Khmer Daily editor-in-chief Rin Ratanak, adding most of his stories were about “illegal logging of luxury wood”. Rampant illegal logging contributed to a sharp drop in Cambodia’s forest cover from 73 percent in 1990 to 57 percent in 2010, according to the United Nations.
Local activists said fellow journalists had recently started to fear for Oudom’s safety, as a result of a string of stories he wrote about deforestation and timber smuggling in the province. In his latest story, posted on the newspaper’s website on September 6, Oudom accused the son of a military police commander of smuggling logs in military-plated vehicles and extorting money from people who were legally transporting wood. [Read the rest.]
Violence on the forest frontier in Cambodia is hardly new. A government investigation is still looking into the death in April of Chut Wutty, a leading Cambodian activist fighting illegal logging on behalf of communities making a living from forest products.
It’s a complicated mess, involving varied accounts involving shots fired by a military police officer who also died in the incident and a logging company security worker. There’s more in a detailed post from May on The Times travel blog Rendezvous, which includes links to the most thorough Cambodian news account of the incident.
It’s particularly frustrating to see such problems build in Cambodia, given how the country, working with environmental groups, was expanding forest protections a decade ago.
But, as the one-time Brazilian environment minister José Lutzenberger told me in 1992: “In the environmental movement, our defeats are always final, our victories always provisional. What you save today can still be destroyed tomorrow, you see — and so often is.”