Cambodian villagers honor slain environmentalist

A prominent environmentalist who was fatally shot last month by a policeman after investigating illegal logging was mourned Friday by more than 500 villagers who gathered in a forest that the activist had sought to protect.

The memorial for Chut Wutty was in Koh Kong province in a forest near where the activist was killed after taking two journalists to look at a logging camp where a Chinese company is building a hydropower project.

Chut Wutty's killing on April 26 drew worldwide condemnation and highlighted conflicts over land in Cambodia.

"We want to send a very clear message to the illegal loggers that we are not afraid of them," ceremony organizer and rights activist Ou Virak said in a telephone interview.

The government says a military policeman shot Chut Wutty during a heated argument, and then killed himself as a colleague tried to wrest his gun away from him.

Human rights and environmental groups have demanded a full investigation.

Chut Wutty was aggressive in his work, and environmentalists say he earned powerful enemies. Illegal logging is rampant in Cambodia, and often occurs under the protection of government agencies or important people, environmental groups have charged. Some protests against land grabs by influential people in recent years have been suppressed with deadly force.

On Monday, Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a directive temporarily suspending new land concessions to private companies in an effort to ease political pressure over the issue.