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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Murder suspect in capital for security

Murder suspect in capital for security

A n army colonel arrested for the murder of a Kampong Cham journalist has been moved to Phnom Penh's T3 Prison for fear his comrades might try to free him.

Sat Soeun was arrested on December 11 and taken to Phnom Penh in a heavily-guarded convey of military police a day later.

Sources said the move was prompted by concern that Soeun's military associates might break him out of jail if he was kept in the province.

Interior Minister You Hockry said: "There was concern about keeping him there (in Kampong Cham) because he has a lot of armed subordinates. We think Phnom Penh is the place to detain him."

Chan Dara, the Koh Santepheap (Island of Peace) newspaper's Kampong Cham correspondent, died on December 8 when he was shot twice in the back at close range. Aged 28, he was married with two children.

It is alleged the murder was prompted by articles he wrote linking Soeun to racketeering in the province.

Sources said Soeun had labeled himself "Soeun of the Earth" because he considered himself untouchable by anyone.

Thong Uypang, Koh Santepheap's publisher, confirmed the paper had printed several articles by Dara accusing Soeun of illegally shipping logs from Kampong Cham to Vietnam.

"He is untouchable and a strong man," said Uypang of Soeun.

The publisher greeted the Post at his Phnom Penh house with a pistol, complete with laser-guided gunsight, in a holster slung over his shoulder. "Only with this can you cope with the situation," he said.

Uypang alleged that Soeun had lured Dara to a restaurant in order to later murder him.

According to a police report released by the Ministry of Information, Dara and Soeun dined together at the Lok Khe (Moon) restaurant beside the Mekong River in the Kampong Cham provincial capital about 5:30pm on December 8.

The two then visited another restaurant before ending up at The Mekong nightclub. They left on two motorcycles and a short time later two shots were fired.

Dara had been shot twice in the back with a K59 pistol at a range of about one meter while on his motorcycle, the report said.

The Khmer Journalist Association (KJA) and Koh Santepheap said Dara had earlier received threats from provincial and military officials who accused him of being a "long mouth" in spreading words about illegal deals.

As well as his own articles, he was said to have been interrogated by military representatives about stories in another newspaper, Preap Noam Sar (Carrier Pigeon), about corruption involving provincial officials and Soeun.

The KJA said Dara used to enjoy perks, such as a gasoline allowance for his motorbike, from the military but they were later canceled because of suspicion and anger at him. KJA president Pin Samkhon said he deplored the murder, but was happier now that someone had been arrested.

Ieng Mouly, the Minister of Information, said in a meeting with local publishers after the murder: "We solemnly condemn all acts of violence, even more strongly if they are politically motivated."

The Khmer Institute of Democracy also condemned the killing, and appealed to the international community "to assist and encourage the Cambodian government to adopt effective measures putting an end to the state of lawlessness that seems to exists in certain military circles."

The Minister of Interior, You Hockery, who personally led the police inquiry, said he had received good cooperation from provincial officials when he visited Kampang Cham.

He said Soeun, who had been taken back to the scene of the crime, had not confessed to the murder. The colonel had been charged after his statements to police contradicted those of eyewitnesses whom he himself had identified to police.

He said Soeun's removal to Phnom Penh would help the investigation to proceed, but he would not say whether he believed anyone else was connected to the killing.

Dara's assassination was the second of a journalist in four months. Non Chan, editor of the Voice of Khmer Youth newspaper, was gunned down on a Phnom Penh street in September. Two people have been arrested and remain in prison while a judge, who threw their confession out of court, investigates the case.

A ceremony - according to Cambodian tradition - to mark the 100-day anniversary of Non Chan's death was held at his family's Phnom Penh home on December 15. An association of Cambodians living in France have donated $350 to his family. The same amount was given to the family of Thou Chham Mongkul, editor of Antarakum newspaper, who died under mysterious circumstances in June.

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