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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Pro-Funcinpec journalist shot dead

Pro-Funcinpec journalist shot dead

A pro-Funcinpec reporter, Chuor Chetharith, was gunned down outside his office at

Ta Prohm radio on October 18 in the first targeted killing of a journalist since

1996.

A press release issued by Reporters without Borders on October 20 stated that six

journalists had been killed in Cambodia between 1994 and 1997. None of the killers

have been brought to justice.

Chetharith, 37, an editor and former Funcinpec aide in the Ministry of Interior,

was the victim of an execution-style killing.

The Cambodian Center for Human Rights reported that two young men pulled up on a

Honda C-125 outside his offices at Ta Prohm radio on October 18. One walked up behind

Chetharith and shot him once in the base of the neck while he was leaving his car

at 8:15 am. The two suspects then drove away. Chetharith died at the scene.

Both Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) quickly painted the murder as a political

killing. The two parties pulled out of planned talks with the Cambodian People's

Party (CPP) at the Royal palace on October 20 aimed at ending the three-month political

standoff preventing a new government from forming.

"It is most difficult indeed not to conclude that the murder was purely politically

motivated," Funcinpec and SRP wrote in a joint statement as the Alliance of

Democrats on the day of the murder.

They pointed to earlier remarks made by Prime Minister Hun Sen in the week before

the killing that criticized the Funcinpec station for its "insulting" broadcasts.

Hun Sen told reporters on October 14 that "leaders of political parties should

control their broadcast media in order to avoid the attacks on each other. [Insulting]

is not good morality for educated people."

Khieu Kanharith, spokesman for the CPP, told the Post on October 21 that the timing

of the comments was merely a coincidence .

"Everyone has tried to push the case as a politically motivated one and I don't

believe it was," Kanharith said. "We should leave the authorities to investigate."

He said it was too early to decide about the motive of the killing. However, Kanharith

proposed one theory, repeated by other members of the CPP, that the journalist, who

had close ties to those in Funcinpec who favored political reconciliation with the

CPP, was killed to drive a wedge between the two parties. Several CPP officials speculated

that hard-liners in the Funcinpec party could have instigated the murder.

But the head of the 16-member committee investigating the killing, Poly Da, undersecretary

of state at the Ministry of Interior, refused to speculate on the motive for the

murder.

"We have experts from CPP and Funcinpec working together on the issue,"

said Da. The committee, appointed by the Ministry of Interior on October 21, has

nine members from CPP and seven from Funcinpec.

The killing followed a prolonged verbal battle between two rival radio stations controlled

by the CPP, radio FM 95, and the Royalist Ta Prohm radio FM 90.

A representative of the Club of Cambodian Journalist (CCJ), Khieu Kola, told the

Post he had listened to the stations' broadcasts since the June election campaign.

Often, he said, the rhetoric turned vicious.

"I am always concerned that the programs trading insults between CPP and Funcinpec

would cause violence if some of their supporters could not control their anger,"

Kola said.

The government has disavowed responsibility for the political dialogue on the airwaves.

Lu Laysreng, Minister of Information, said he could not control the radio program

because it would constitute political interference.

"Both pro-CPP and Funcinpec radio are the same," he said. "I gave

an order several times to stop the insults but those stations ignored my regulation,

and didn't listen to me."

Reporters Without Borders, based in France, wrote that King Norodom Sihanouk stated

on his website that the killing was politically motivated and complained that 99

percent of those cases go unpunished.

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