A joint investigative committee will be established to re-examine the killing of activist Chut Wutty and military police officer In Rattana, the head of the armed forces told the Post yesterday, after providing his own version of the incident to radio.
Chheuy Odom Reaksmey (l), the 19-year-old son of Chut Wutty, walks in a procession along with his father's coffin during a funeral yesterday in Kandal province. Photo by Heng Chivoan
Pressure from the families of victims and rights groups for an independent inquiry into Thursday’s dual shooting has mounted following a series of contradictory and questionable official explanations from the military police.
On the day of environmentalist Chut Wutty’s burial, General Sao Sokha, national military commander, said Council of Minister’s deputy minister Prak Sokhon had asked him to enlist people to form the committee into the double shooting in Koh Kong province last Thursday.
“The government tries to work to provide justice for those two people and also for the nation; what the government did is according to the law,” he said.
Sao Sokha said the committee would be formed with officials from the Ministry of Interior, Council of Ministers, the Ministry of National Assembly Senate Relations & Inspection, other government departments and the national military police.
He was unclear about the involvement of civil society groups investigating the case, stating that they were not banned but from attending, but also had to know how “law and government work”.
While rights groups have welcomed the idea of taking part, they have also raised questions about how the composition of the committee, such as the inclusion of the military police, could affect its independence.
The military police have thus far provided at least three separate accounts of what happened, including claims In Rattana shot Chut Wutty, but was killed when his own AK-47 rounds ricocheted off a car, shot himself in regret or was gunned down by the activist before returning fire.
The two men were shot after Chut Wutty was confronted by military police and a military official when he stopped at the side of a road with two journalists in the Cardamom Mountains in Koh Kong province’s Modul Seima district to photographs logs on Thursday.
Thong Narong, chief of military police in Koh Kong, conceded many people had said a report from his department released on Friday that claimed In Rattana had taken his own life was not clear, but nevertheless stood by the version of events.
“We have to do a new investigation to make it clear for people to understand what the real reason and cause was behind what happened.”
Speaking with Radio France Internationale yesterday, Sao Sokha added his own detailed version of events in which he revealed that Chut Wutty was confronted by staff from the company licensed to clear the reservoir of the Russey Chrum hydropower dam.
He denied other accounts that claimed military police were working for this company and distanced them from the incident by reiterating that the dispute between In Rattana and Chut Wutty was “personal”.
“If you want to shoot, please shoot,” he claimed Chut Wutty had told an inflamed In Rattana, before the latter shot him.
Mathieu Pellerin, a monitoring consultant with rights group Licadho, said both the fact that military police had been present at the shooting and that they had subsequently provided such wildly varied accounts should exclude them from investigations
“I think the bigger picture is that they must be able to clarify the circumstances of the event leading to the shooting,” he said.
“Why were the military police there? These questions are quite controversial so I’m not sure the military police are the best group to have answering these questions.”
Independent political analyst Lao Mong Hay suggested the inclusion of a retired judge or prosecutor in the committee would help it become a little less one-sided.
“This is a positive move by the government to try to find out the truth about the killing, but I’m still sceptical about the composition of that joint committee, because there are no sort of independent members,” he said.
More than 100 schoolchildren yesterday lined the street leading to Chut Wutty’s home at Svay Meash village, Sour commune in Kandal province’s Kandal’s Khsach Kandal district, where a total of about 500 people accompanied his body to a nearby cemetery to be buried.