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FBI could probe journalist's murder

FBI could probe journalist's murder

Vandy Rattana

A mourner prays on Saturday before an alter for journalist Khim Sambo, who was gunned down Friday evening.

T

he US Federal Bureau of Investigation is ready to help Cambodian authorities probing the assassination of opposition-aligned journalist Khim Sambo, the US embassy said late Monday, warning that the brazen killing could scare people away from general elections in two weeks.

Khim Sambo and his 21 year-old son, Khath Sarin Pheata, were gunned down Friday evening outside Phnom Penh's Olympic Stadium in a drive-by shooting that has shaken the capital and raised fears for press freedoms ahead of the polls.

“Our family never had any enemies or disputes with neighbors. What happened to my father was unexpected,” Khat Sarinda, the victim’s 24 year-old daughter, told the Post on Monday. 

Police have few leads, but the FBI "stands ready to provide assistance, if requested by the Cambodian government, in investigating the case," the embassy said in a statement in which it also urged Cambodian authorities "to take the necessary measures in order to bring the perpetrators to justice."

The 47 year-old, who submitted articles critical of the government written under pseudonyms to Moneaksekar Khmer, a newspaper affiliated with the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, died at the scene.

His son died in the early Saturday at Ketomelea military hospital, and the two were cremated Sunday at Wat Tuol Tumpong in a ceremony attended by several hundred people.

Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith, who has condemned the killings and called for swift justice, welcomed the FBI’s offer on Tuesday.

“It would be good if we could cooperate with the FBI in investigating this case. We could trade experiences. Either way, we would not be blamed if we could not find the killers, or if we found them [critics] would not say [the suspects] are the fake killers.”

Various journalist organizations, including the Khmer Journalist Friendship Association, the Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and the International Federation of Journalists, have expressed outrage over the killings.

Kek Galabru, president of Cambodian human rights group Licadho, also condemned the shootings as a bid to sow fear, saying “message is to scare the journalists from writing the truth” ahead of the July 27 elections.

She pointed out that Khim Sambo was the 12th journalist to be murdered since Cambodia’s first democratic election in 1993. None of the perpetrators has been convicted.

The US embassy, meanwhile, warned that the shootings, along with Sunday’s acid attack against Ngon Srun, a senior Cambodian People’s Party member, could keep people from the polls.

Ngon Srun was severely burned on the face and chest after being doused with acid by unknown assailants. Police say no criminal complaints have been filed.

“Violent, criminal acts such as this can have a chilling effect on the media, and ... risk undermining citizens’ confidence in their ability to fully participate in the electoral process in safety and security,” the embassy said.

According to Prampi Makara district police chief Yim Simony, Khim Sambo and his son were fired on five times by a man riding pillion on a motorbike as they drove away from the stadium on Monireath Boulevard.

Their motorbike kept upright for another 30 meters before crashing into a woman on a bicycle, according to several witnesses. Khim Sambo was struck twice, while Khath Sarin Pheata was hit by one bullet in the chest.

The attackers, who wore civilian clothing and made no effort to hide their faces behind sunglasses or helmets, circled back around to make sure they had hit their mark, said one witness who did not want to be named.

“After shooting, they turned around on their motorbike and looked down at his body to be sure he was dead,” the witness told the Post on Monday.

Others said they feared for their own security and refused to discuss the killings.

Khim Sambo’s murder was the first killing of a journalist since October 2003, when Chuor Chetharith, deputy editor for Funcinpec-aligned Ta Prum radio, was slain. That death was one in a slew of high-profile killings to occur in 2003 and 2004, all carried by two men on a motorbike in crowded areas.

At the time of his death Khim Sambo was also working with tycoon developer and government advisor Sok Kong, president of Sokimex, one of the largest Cambodian-owned companies.

He had extensive contacts among CPP-friendly officials in the judiciary and security forces, despite his regular contributions to the anti-ruling party Moneaksekar Khmer.

Friday’s shootings follow last month’s week-long detention of Dam Sith, Moneaksekar Khmer’s editor-in-chief and a Sam Rainsy Party candidate for the parliamentary elections.

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong pressed defamation and disinformation charges against Dam Sith for publishing comments by Sam Rainsy, who alleged Hor Namhong’s involvement in Khmer Rouge atrocities.

Prime Minister Hun Sen requested that Phnom Penh Municipal Court release Dam Sith on bail amid mounting international pressure, and Hor Namhong later dropped his suit.

But his arrest was condemned by the Sam Rainsy Party as another example of harassment of the opposition by the ruling party.

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