SEVERAL opposition newspapers have appeared on newsstands in recent weeks. Journalists
report intimidation, but say that they have always been threatened in the past and
that the brisk sales are worth it.
Some publishers accuse others of being funded by the CPP to give the appearance of
a free press, while directors who have fled the country argue that they are all being
Angkor Thom, was the first to publish on Aug 16, followed by Neak Tosou (The Struggler),
Neaknoamsar Thmei (New Messenger), Antarakum (Intervention), Neak Prayudh (The Fighter),
Moneaksekar Khmer (Khmer Concience), Angkor Thmei and Prayudh (The Fight).
Angkor Thom, was sent a kind letter of appreciation from Second Prime Minister Hun
Sen - written in red ink. "The meaning of the letter is good ... [Hun Sen] thanked
me, but what I am worried about is that he wrote in red," publisher Thong Saphay
He took the July 21 letter to be a sign of ill tidings, despite the innocuous words.
"Normally, we consider letters in red ink life-threatening," he said. "If
not to the receiver, to a relative."
The paper had published an article about a disabled family which was seeking support
from Hun Sen. The Second Prime Minister's letter thanking the publisher for bringing
the matter to his attention was handwritten.
Members of Hun Sen's cabinet were either not aware of the letter, declined to comment
or were unavailable at Post press time.
Angkor Thom had received $200 per month from Funcinpec Secretary of State for the
Interior Ho Sok since late 1995. "First, I ran my paper in a neutral way, but
a few months later Ho Sok asked me to support Funcinpec and I agreed," Saphay
He said that the paper has not received funds from Funcinpec since the murder of
Sok in CPP custody, and pledged that he would cease publication rather than accept
money from the CPP if he runs into financial difficulties.
Formerly a weekly publication, it now prints every few days. Front-page headlines
of the July 11 issue read: "Pol Pot As Bad As Hun Sen," "Millionaire
Teng Bun Ma Gave $1 Million To Hun Sen To Make The Coup To Oust Ranariddh,"
and "Bun Chhay Hired Six Tanks From Thailand To Confront Hun Sen Government."
Saphay claims that circulation has risen from 3,000 to 10,000 per issue since its
"My paper is selling well now, a newsstand owner in the provinces phoned me
and asked me to send more copies," Saphay said. "He told me that many people
are looking for opposition papers, [because] they want to know what is truly happening
in Phnom Penh." He said that he may begin to publish daily, if high sales continue.
Another newspaper, Angkor Thmei, is now critical of the CPP despite having supported
it in the past. The publisher reported that he used to receive $200 every month from
a CPP member, but declined to identify the person. The newspaper was the first to
publish alleged quotes from a taped telephone conversation made on Nov 6, 1995, during
which Prince Norodom Sirivudh allegedly threatened Hun Sen's life. The story led
to the detention and subsequent exile of the outspoken Funcinpec secretary-general.
The publisher at the time, Sum Dara, is still at the helm. He claimed that the fighting
of June 17 and July 5-6 led to his change of heart. "Hun Sen's politics bend
so quickly ... it is confusing! He acts on his own and does not abide by the Constitution,"
Dara said. "For example, [before] the fighting in Phnom Penh on 5-6 of July
Hun Sen did not go through the National Assembly."
Headlines like "Hun Sen is Walking to China in the Communist Way" and "Hun
Sen is Good at Making Accusations in Order to Make War and Get Power" were on
the front page of the July 7 edition.
Dara cited journalistic integrity and a sense of fair play as reasons for switching
sides. "I like to print the truth and support the weak side," Dara said.
Angkor Thmei received telephone threats several times, according to Dara. "You
are eating rice and destroying the cook [biting the hand that feeds you]," Dara
quoted the caller as saying. He claims that he perceived the call as a death threat
and complained of being afraid to go out because of police following him.
The political editor of Neak Tosou said he has received praise and death threats
simultaneously. The paper has published stories with headlines like "Hun Sen
Government Is Never Legal." Snguon Chamney reported that an anonymous caller
congratulated him while cautioning him.
"He warned me that I have to be critical in a limited way," he recalled.
"The man did not mention any specific article, but said 'you have to love your
He reports that sales are good, up from 300 to 6,000 per issue, and that he does
not feel particularly threatened at the moment. "I believe that nothing will
happen to us [opposition journalists] at this time they just adjust us, but I am
not sure in the future," Chamney said, "Because if something happens to
us CPP will be blamed."
He says that he intends to carry on, despite the risks. "I have no destination
to escape to and I need to survive," he stated. "So I will continue to
publish the paper."
The Aug 3 issue of The Mirror, a weekly English-language compendium of the Khmer
press, argued in its analysis that advertising, an "indication of a return to
normalcy", had bottomed out following a peak in the week prior to the clashes.
Most opposition papers carried few or no ads, except for Neak Tosou which carried
three - "King" cologne, the "Lux" beauty salon and an impotence
clinic. The same clinic was the sole advertiser in Prayudh.
So far, one maverick publication has been launched from Thailand. The Free Citizen
News - published by Khmer Journalists Association president Pin Sam Khon - carries
mostly Khmer translations of wire service and newspaper articles, but offers stinging
An editorial in the inaugural issue alleges that 145 were killed and 200 wounded
in the July 5-6 fighting, stating: "This figure may be less than the actual
figure in view of the executions by Hun Sen's soldiers.
"Hun Sen has declared 100% victory over the non-resistant Funcinpec and unarmed
Khmer Nation Party of Sam Rainsy, which is meaningless," it reads. "Doom
is approaching Hun Sen and his camp because Theng Boon Ma might be lacking in 'dirty'
money to support him ..."
Angkor Thmei publisher Dara charged that the CPP has ordered its own papers to act
as opposition publications to give the impression of press freedom.
Speaking from Thailand, former Khmer Nation Party newspaper Sereipheap Thmei director
Som Virak agreed, but went further to question the integrity of all the Khmer-language
publications remaining in the country.
"All of the directors [of opposition newspapers] are not in Phnom Penh. The
newspapers which have started publishing again, publish to support Hun Sen,"
the Khmer Nation Party member argued. "If they write bad things about Hun Sen,
they write like that so Hun Sen can say that in Cambodia we have democracy and freedom
of the press."
Other newspaper directors interviewed in Aranyaprathet say the same thing, very angry
at their staff, who they believe have been "bought" by Hun Sen to start
Khieu Kanharith, Ministry of Information Secretary of State, dismissed the importance
of the charges. "I don't care about these things," he said. "Most
papers get money from one side or the other. What is important is the content."
He denied that the CPP tries to steer editorial policies. "All of those [editors]
are from the opposition and are making very sharp statements and Hun Sen says it
is OK. It is less of a headache than before. They can write what they want."
Chum Kanal, President of the League of Cambodian Journalists, agreed. "I do
not think there is any person who begs for abuse from others," he said. "I
believe people want praise."
Responding to complaints of intimidation, Kanal denied that there had been any death
threats to journalists since the coup. He countered that it has been safer for journalists
since Ranariddh left the country. "Of course it happened before the fighting,
but [intimidation] came from Ranariddh's group," he said.
All the opposition paper publishers said that sales have been good and they are making
profits. Even those complaining of death threats said they believe that they are
safe for the time being, because of Hun Sen's desire to maintain an appearance of