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Officials drop suit against royalist paper

THE Ministry of Information has withdrawn a lawsuit against the royalist-aligned Khmer Amatak newspaper after its publisher promised to correct an article marking the 13th anniversary of July 1997’s bloody factional fighting.

Bun Tha, the paper’s publisher, said yesterday that he wrote to Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith on Thursday to offer the correction, after the ministry filed a lawsuit against the paper earlier in the week.

“I have met with His Excellency Khieu Kanharith, and he noted in his reply to me that he agreed to withdraw the lawsuit ... and requested me to publish my correction,” Bun Tha said.

The article, titled, “The 13th anniversary of the 5-6 July 1997 coup d’état signals Hun Sen’s grabbing of monopolistic power”, recalled the violent factional fighting in which Prime Minister Hun Sen vanquished his Funcinpec opponents.

The episode, sometimes described as a coup d’état, led to more than 100 deaths, and many more Funcinpec loyalists fled overseas, including ousted first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

At the time, Hun Sen said he moved against Funcinpec because the party was conspiring with remnants of the Khmer Rouge. The act nonetheless alienated Western countries including the United States.

In its lawsuit, the Ministry of Information said that the article did not quote government publications issued to explain the 1997 events, and that it amounted to “intentional misinformation”.

Tith Sothea, head of the Press and Quick Reaction Unit at the Council of Ministers, said the lawsuit was withdrawn due to the “good will of the Information Ministry”, and that it had been intended to “remind all journalists to re-examine and improve their code of conduct”.

Chan Soveth, a senior monitor for rights group Adhoc, also said the lawsuit should serve as a reminder of the importance of adhering to high standards in journalism.

“In order to avoid suing each other ... all journalists must stick to their code of conduct and professionalism,” he said.
Khieu Kanharith could not be reached yesterday.

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