A JUDGE in a Phnom Penh court this week threw out a "confession" from two men saying that they killed Samleng Yuvachun Khmer newspaper editor Non Chan.
The two men - Moen Seun, 24 and Sum Say, 26 - had been arrested on Sept 18 and 19 respectively for Chan's murder and had been detained in custody since.
Chan, the editor of a newspaper that was hard-line anti-government, was shot and killed on Sept 7 near Wat Phnom.
Though the suspects had been arrested less than a fortnight after Chan's death, authorities have not publicized the news till now, the time of their court appearance.
The judge refused to hear the evidence or try the men, saying that it was against the law to detain suspects for longer than 48 hours before sending them to court.
A senior policeman said the reason for the lengthy detention was to have a "strict inquiry in order to collect proof to show that they had actually committed the crime."
The men told the court that they had been forced by police to put their fingerprints on evidence and confess to Chan's murder.
The judge gave police further custody of the two accused, according to the Reasmey Kampuchea newspaper.
The paper also reported that the men would appear before the court at some later, unspecified date.
The judge would discuss the matter further with the police, it said.
Interior Minister You Hockry said the two arrested men were hired killers and had received $3,000 for Chan's murder.
Hockry said that one of the suspects owned a Nova motorbike similar to one witnesses to the shooting had seen the unformed killer riding.
He said one of the men admitted his friend had done the killing, but that story later changed and his friend denied the accusation.
Hockry said that during the inquiry the two allegedly said they could not answer questions for fear of being killed by those who hired them.
There has been wide speculation that Chan's killing was politically motivated. His vitriolic articles attacked a wide range of well-known targets.
The Bangkok Post recently alleged that the Interior Ministry had found that the "real" criminals had come from the Funcinpec party and that Co-Premier Prince Norodom Ranariddh had asked Hockry to stop the investigation.
Reacting to that, Hockry denied that Ranariddh had asked him to give up the investigation "otherwise I would not have arrested the criminals," he said.
The murder of Chan drew a chorus of outrage from human rights organizations around the world. Many linked the killing to the government's efforts to clamp down on a free and unruly Khmer-language press.