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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Hun Sen joins new journalist league

Hun Sen joins new journalist league

S ECOND Prime Minister Hun Sen has joined the new League of Cambodian Journalists

(LCJ), while the government has given it a $1,700 donation.

Both Hun Sen

and First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh attended the first congress of

the LCJ - formed by a breakaway from the Khmer Journalists Association (KJA) -

in a Phnom Penh dancing club on July 4.

They presented a four million

riels (US $1,700) government donation, while Hun Sen made little secret of his

distaste for the KJA.

"I don't want the league that was successfully

created today - one Prime Minister came in the morning, another came in the

afternoon - to tremble," he told the congress to applause.

"The

dissolution of that association [the KJA] was not accidental," he

said.

He expressed disappointment at opinion polls conducted in the past

by the KJA, one of which found dissident Sam Rainsy was Cambodia's most favorite

politician.

"In a situation where national reconciliation is proceeding

smoothly, are such polls necessary?" Hun Sen asked.

Of KJA president Pin

Samkhon, the Prime Minister said: "He should see who he is, why he is left

behind."

Hun Sen said his membership of the LCJ should not be a matter

for criticism.

"I'm a member of the league. This is my right. Don't

accuse this or that person of interfering. This is democracy," he said, adding

that the KJA remained recognized by the government.

He said he had come

to the congress "to make my submission to the league", not for the LCJ to make

submissions to him.

Hun Sen, appearing to confirm rumors that he had

dined with LCJ leaders around the time of the breakaway from the KJA, said there

were people who maintained that "even having a meal with Hun Sen is

wrong".

He strenuously denied he had done anything improper, or had

instigated the forming of the league.

LCJ president Chum Kanal - a Koh

Santepheap newspaper writer and, until he resigned the day the LCJ was formed,

deputy-director of the Phnom Penh Municipality's information bureau - had

earlier publicly denied dining with Hun Sen.

Kanal has said the LCJ is a

neutral, independent group of journalists, but that it would accept political

donations provided they came without conditions.

Kanal, asked after the

congress about the LCJ's funding, told the Post he would borrow money from

"friends" for rented offices for the league.

He intended to ask for money

from the United States-funded Asia Foundation - which funds the KJA - to re-pay

the debt.

The Asia Foundation has said that any funding of the LCJ will

be contingent on being assured that it was a non-partisan organization acting in

the interests of a free press.

Chum Kanal said the venue, food and drink

at the congress - held at Bopha Khleang Rumsev, a cowboy-style dancing club -

was provided free of charge by the owner. He did not know the owner's

name.

He said the LCJ now had 38 newspapers, magazines and other

organizations as members, and was a "success" over the KJA.

The KJA,

meanwhile, has been left with only five newspaper members: the Khmer

Independent, Khmer Neutral, New Voice, a French-language paper and a

Vietnamese-language one.

Pin Samkhon, the KJA president, said he had had

enough "headaches" and hoped to end the hostility and crisis in the press

community.

"For me, it is over now. There is nothing for me to worry

about and what I have to continue doing is to keep the KJA running."

The

KJA has about $350,000 in funding from the Asia Foundation to be spent over two

years.

Samkhon also once accepted a two million riels donation from

Prince Ranariddh, a move which is understood to have attracted internal KJA

murmurings about Samkhon's politics.

But division within the KJA is known

to have largely centered on Samkhon's ardent defense of newspapers - all

primarily anti-government - which have been criminally prosecuted by the

government.

Meanwhile, divisions within the press will again be

highlighted by an international journalists conference to be hosted by the KJA

in Phnom Penh on July 24.

The LCJ has threatened to boycott the

conference unless it is allowed to host it.

More than 30 foreign

journalists are to attend the conference, held under the auspices of the

International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), to discuss the theme "Media and

Government: The Search for Solutions."

Jacqueline Park, the IFJ's

Cambodia-based representative, said the KJA had worked for almost a year to

bring the conference to Cambodia.

"It seems very unfortunate... because

the LCJ is not yet affiliated to the IFJ. It just would not be appropriate for

there to be any change in who hosts the conference.

"We will be sorry if

they [the LCJ] do decide not to attend because we feel that they will be denying

themselves a wonderful opportunity."

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