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A second journalist murdered because of his fight against illegal deforestation

A second journalist murdered because of his fight against illegal deforestation

Source : Green et Vert
An investigative journalist who was reporting on illegal wood exploitation was found dead in his car. This is the second assassination of a journalist by the deforestation mafia in 2012.

Hang Serei Oudom was found in his car, where he had been savagely assaulted with an axe. The car was parked in a plantation located in the province of Ratanakiri. His colleagues, who worked with him at the magazine Vorakchun Khmer Daily, are horrified. Rin Ratanak, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, knows why the tragedy happened: “This is not a violent robbery gone bad. It's a crime. He was investigating the reckless deforestation ordered by the government officials of the province. Many of his activities were focused on the illegal exploitation of precious wood oils.” Unfortunately, Oudom’s disappearance is no great surprise. His colleagues had urged him several times to give up his work, and he had received death threats.

Is the use of violence to silence the press turning into a bad habit in the realm? In any case, Oudom is the second victim in a few months. In April, Chhut Vuthy was shot by policemen, while refusing to destroy photos of illegal deforestation activities. What these white collar criminals are probably hoping is that the multiplication of these murders will have the expected effect, and incite the local press to practice some kind of auto-censorship. Thus the ‘wood mafia’ could pursue its lucrative activities, virtually undisturbed.

According to a United Nations’ report, the forest-covered area of Cambodia went from 73% in 1990 to 57% en 2010, mostly because of illegal activities. The pattern has been well rehearsed: An administration higher-up has a few hundred hectares cut down, sells the wood abroad, and then concedes exploitation rights for the cleared ground to agricultural companies, so they can exploit latex or sugar cane… Oftentimes, the army protects the lumberjacks during their task, as they are likely to be ‘disturbed’ by the neighboring villagers, who depend on the forest for their subsistence. Sometimes, the army is even more zealous: Hang Serei Oudom had recently revealed that the son of an army general was having military trucks transport the wood! Naturally, he also imposed a ‘protection tax’ to other illegal exploiters…

Will the death of these journalists discourage the defenders of Cambodian forests? That’s unlikely. Before his death, Chhut Vuthy, for instance, was a tireless advocate for ‘citizen patrols’. These ‘units,’ composed of the villagers who are the primary victims of deforestation, are still in existence. They tirelessly harass illegal exploiters, burning the casks of rare oils waiting to be expedited. According to the local press, it costs the wood mafias dozens of thousands of dollars. Could it be the only way to bring them back on the right track and to save the forests of South-East Asia?

© Green et Vert / traduction : Sophie Raimondo

Date : 19/09/2012