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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Dissident papers close, future cloudy

Dissident papers close, future cloudy

C AMBODIA'S dissident newspapers - and their most outspoken editors - appear to have

been effectively silenced.

For more than a month now, six of the most critical anti-government papers have been

refused printing facilities from all printing houses around town, their editors say.

Those same editors have in the meantime been given executive positions on the Board

of Directors of Sam Rainsy's new Khmer Nation party - and they agree with Rainsy

that they cannot therefore continue as newspaper publishers.

They are still fighting for permission to print their papers however, and are looking

for new editors to take over their positions.

They have also applied to the Ministry of Information to open their own independent

printing house.

The apparent loss of the six papers has also crippled the newly-formed nine-member

Association of Independent Journalists - a third journalist association made up of

anti-government papers.

The printing houses involved have been threatened if they continue to print the papers,

say the editors of New Liberty News, Voice of Khmer Youth, Khmer Conscience, Khmer

Ideal, Wat Phnom News and Combatant.

Occasional copies of Wat Phnom News and Khmer Conscience have been seen on the streets,

but these were "clandestine" copies printed only because the owner of one

printing house needed the cash, said Khmer Conscience publisher Soth Khemarak.

Khemarak said: "We hope very soon to resume printing our papers, but by what

means we don't know yet."

"It is pressure. But we will try our best to get the papers out. We don't want

to lose the voice of democracy," he said.

All six told the Post that as hard as they tried, all printing houses had refused

their business because they were scared they might themselves be shut down.

Printers were afraid that Kraingyov people would come and smash their houses like

the incident that occured recently in the offices of the New Liberty News.

They also said they had been intimidated by the police.

The owner of the printing house Khemarak nervously told the Post that she had not

received any threats.

However, after printing one copy run of the Wat Phnom News she ran off to her brother's

house to hide for two days. "There was no harassment, I was just scared because

I am an old person."

One worker from the Pracheachun Newspaper Printing House, who gave his name as Vibal,

said policemen in civilian clothes and people from Ministry of Information frequently

patrolled the business.

"If they see us still print (dissident papers), they might seize the papers

or fine us because we don't listen to them. But so far nothing has happened,"

Vibal said.

He said the authorities had warned them that if they continued to print, and "something

happened", they would not take any responsibility for the incident.

Khieu Kanharith, secretary of state of the Ministry of Information, said his ministry

had never warned any printing house.

The printing house had the right to print any paper, he added.

Interior Minister You Hockry said he hadn't ordered any policemen to tell printing

houses not to print.

"If there is (a case), please be clear. Don't just say this sort of thing as

an accusation. I think that is unfair," Hockry said.

Each editor said that the moves against them were to eliminate press freedoms and

democracy.

Soth Khemarak said Cambodia's democracy was dying, and the government wanted to silence

any opposition newspaper.

Combatant publisher Sam Vuthy said democracy was becoming worse and worse... "it

is just like a word on the lip of a powerful person... but the people are still slaves."

He said the closure of such publications merely strengthened a "communist dictatorship".

Chan Rottana, publisher of Voice of Khmer Youth, said democracy was just a symbol,

but that the country was under the control of military power.

Dararith said that if there were no dissident newspapers, the pro-government newspapers

would falsify the situation in Cambodia from "white to black, good to bad".

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