Willing to speak out ... Chhut Vuthy, president of the Natural Resource Conservation Group in Cambodia. Photo: Cambodian Center for Human Rights
A CAMBODIAN military police officer shot himself twice in the chest after gunning down a prominent activist, officials say, in a surprise explanation for the two deaths in a remote forest.
Chhut Vuthy, the president of the Natural Resource Conservation Group, was documenting illegal logging with two women journalists on Thursday when a confrontation broke out with military police who tried to confiscate his camera's memory card.
''The military police officer fatally shot Chhut Vuthy and when he realised he had made a mistake and could not flee from the law, he decided to kill himself,'' said a spokesman for the military police.
He added that the officer, who was armed with an assault rifle, ''shot himself twice, once in the stomach, once near his nipple''.
Mr Vuthy, an outspoken and long-time land activist who had military police training, had a handgun on him, according to the spokesman.
The explanation of the deaths, in south-western Koh Kong province was greeted with incredulity by activists contacted by Agence France-Presse, who did not wish to be named.
The Cambodian human rights group, Licadho, said the information its team had collected on the ground ''contradicts statements made by officials'' and called for a ''thorough and impartial investigation''.
The two reporters from the English-language Cambodia Daily who witnessed what happened have not made any public statements.
Human rights groups reacted with dismay to Mr Vuthy's death.
He ''was one of the few … Cambodian activists willing to speak out against the rapid escalation of illegal logging and land grabbing,'' the director of Global Witness, Patrick Alley, said.
''The extent of the risks he and other activists face has been laid bare in the most shocking and tragic manner,'' he said.