THUN Bun Ly and at least three other Khmer newspaper editors had been warned their
lives were in danger in the weeks before Bun Ly's May 18 assassination.
"This is not the end of it... there will be more deaths. Anyone with popular
political appeal might be killed," according to Meas Darith, the manager of
"They plan to kill three more [newspapermen] - myself, Chan Rottana [the editor
of Samleng Yuvachun Khmer] and Hen Vipheak [the editor of Sereypheap Thmey] - have
been told our lives are in danger... I have been warned by friendly police to be
very careful. I am very frightened now... I will continue to publish my newspaper,
but I have to be more careful when I write stories," Meas said.
On the morning he was murdered, Bun Ly published an article in his own newspaper
warning that someone was out to "get him" and his Editor-in-Chief Kim Samral.
The front page story in Udom Kati Khmer (Khmer Ideal) claimed a "major"
in the "anti-terrorist squad" was searching for Bun Ly's house, and that
when it was found "the major would surprise the residents of Phnom Penh."
The piece may well have goaded Bun Ly's assassin into acting as it mocked the "major"
as always being drunk and incompetent.
"The Udom Kati Khmer was told by those who know the anti terrorist officer that
he is a former strong-legged and heavy-handed [man] who has been famous since the
era of 'Yuon Sen'... watch out, all opposition newspapers," the story read.
Just hours before his death, Bun Ly had also told Darith that he was being followed.
Darith said Bun Ly had made light of the situation and was looking forward to a wedding
party later in the day.
"He knew someone would try to kill him about a week before it happened - a high
official in the interior ministry called and warned him," Darith said.
Another friend, who requested anonymity, said Bun Ly was concerned but hoped publishing
the threats would offer him protection.
"If everybody knew, then he would be safe," she said.
Co-president of the Khmer Journalists Association, Pin Samkhan, said Bun Ly's assassination
came as no surprise even though the Khmer media scene had been "relatively quiet"
recently. " I fear myself to run the true stories - I practice a form of self
censorship because to write the truth is dangerous. I don't want to shock people
because it will be dangerous for me."
Samkhan said the shooting marked a return to the use of violence to intimidate the
media after a period when pressure had been applied through the courts and economic
"Fear is not the only problem - there is also an economic problem. There are
too many papers for the advertising market and most survive through some sort of
"It's very difficult to find advertising revenue and if you have support from
politicians it's easier. Support results in favorable introductions to people [with
money to spend].
"People must survive through all kinds of possibilities... many VIPs will pay
to get their photo in the paper. These people want to show society they are important
so they will pay to have coverage."
Samkhan agreed the Khmer media still had a long way to go before it could claim to
be professional through a commitment to fairness and balance. He said the so called
"opposition press" - local newspapers with an allegiance to Sam Rainsy
and his Khmer Nation Party - often wrote very insulting articles about the government
and other political parties.
"In Khmer culture such stories and the unfavorable characterization of politicians
in cartoons are very insulting and make people very angry," he said. "However,
the KJA will always protect journalists, all journalists.
"Our position is that journalists can always make mistakes and they can always
apologize for those mistakes. They do not kill people, they only write something
so they should not be killed. This is something the government must understand."