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Military officer arrested, detained over slain journalist

Oudon

Cambodian police officials pull the body of dead local journalist Hang Serei Oudom (C) from a car trunk in Ratanakkiri province on Tuesday. Photograph: AFP

Cambodian police officials pull the body of dead local journalist Hang Serei Oudom (C) from a car trunk in Ratanakkiri province on Tuesday. Photograph: AFP

A military police officer in Ratanakkiri province was arrested and detained for questioning this morning in connection with the unsolved slaying of Vorakchun Khmer newspaper reporter Hang Serei Oudom, local authorities said.

Em Vun, Banlung town police chief, told the Post that Captain An Bunheng, aka Eng, was arrested at 10.30 am at the provincial military police headquarters, and that investigators from the Ministry of Interior were there to ask him about the incident.

Police went to his workplace after provincial authorities and a prosecutor from the court descended on his residence earlier in the morning in Banlung town’s Boeung Kanseng commune.

“When police raided his house, all belongings at his house were removed,” Vun said. “He was not there and police brought him at around 10.30am from military police,” he said.

Provincial military police chief Kim Reaksmey told the Post that, in addition to Bunheng, more than 10 people are being questioned about the slaying, but that the journalist’s widow believes a phone number used to call her husband the night he vanished belonged to Bunheng.

Oudom, who was a 44-year-old reporter for Vorakchun Khmer—Khmer Hero in English—disappeared on Sunday when he left his house at night for a meeting.

During his career, he had written articles about illegal logging in Ratanikkiri, which is infamous for its lax crackdown on the black market timber trade.

In his last article, Oudom drew connections between illegal logging and local authorities.

His corpse was discovered days later in the trunk of a 1996 Toyota Camry in O’Chum district. Wounds on his head, according to an autopsy report, suggest he was bludgeoned to death with an axe.

He lived in Banlung with his wife, Im Chanthy, who said he told her he would be out just for a while the night of his disappearance.

Asked about the questioning of Bunheng, Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior said that police believe at least two suspects were involved in the killing, and that the investigation is far from over.

“Please let police work before we reveal anything,” he said. “Sometimes, the person police brought for questioning might be a witness in the killing.”

This is the first killing of a journalist since 2008, when reporter Khim Sambo and his 21-year-old son were gunned down in the street in a drive-by shooting. Counting Oudom, 11 journalists have been slain since 1994, according to the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.

The Committee to Protect Journalists released a statement today that called on Prime Minister Hun Sen to help create a safer environment for members of the media to do their jobs.

CPJ’s Southeast Asia representative Shawn Crispin said that while he welcomes the progress in the investigation, Cambodian authorities have an “abysmal track record in achieving justice in such cases.”

"It has been nearly four years since the killing of journalist Khim Sambo and little if any progress has been made in his case."

Crispin said that CPJ’s concern is that the murder may have been motivated by high level officials in the illegal logging trade, “and that the wheels of justice will halt once investigators come to that conclusion."

To contact the reporter on this story: Chhay Channyda at channyda.chhay@phnompenhpost.com
With assistance from Joseph Freeman

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