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Kampot closed to hacks, dips

Kampot closed to hacks, dips

A SOLITARY TV crew were thought to be the only Westerners left in Kampot as the Post went to press after an angry Premier Prince Norodom Ranariddh ordered all journalists and diplomats out of the province.

Of the three embassies involved in negotiating the release of their subjects, the French and Australians said their staff had been withdrawn. The British Embassy refused to comment.

Franck Gellet, the spokesman for the French Embassy said: "I can confirm they have been withdrawn but I cannot comment further." All three embassies have adopted an official news blackout since the kidnapping on July 26.

Ranariddh lashed out at Western media and diplomats after the London Sunday Times published exerts from a radio conversation between the captives and one of their reporters.

But one Western journalist defended his colleagues and the Sunday Times story.

"It was a fine piece of investigative journalism. Until that time there was no proof they were actually being shelled. Basically he did what the Scotland Yard detective who has been down there for a month never thought or bothered to do," he said.

The TV newsman, who declined to be named, added: "It could be the beginning of restrictions on journalists. What is next? A ban on travelling outside Phnom Penh. What is the guidance here?"

He feared that officials would use petty reasons to intimidate or expel foreign reporters.

In an outburst on his return to Pochentong on Aug 21 from an official visit to Malaysia, Ranariddh said: "All of you [the hostages'] countries should simply shut up.

"The hostages say 'Please, please pay the ransom. Your governments say 'No, no no'. I'm very upset."

Speaking to journalists on Monday at the National Assembly Session on August 22, the Prince said: "The main objective of the Royal Government is to save those and I think we need calm.

" We need not only confidentiality but also security in order to allow us to be able to deal with those kidnappers who are the Khmer Rouge."

When asked about complaints by Australians over the expulsion of the diplomats from Kampot the Prince said: "My response will be simply like this 'Does Australia consider the life of hostage more important than the presence of an official in Kompot.

"I'm against neither Australia, France nor United Kingdom. My own interest is to save those hostages."

On the prospects for the hostages' release the co-premier said: "I was optimistic but since too many cooks spoil the cuisine, I'm less optimistic."

He is reported as saying that Khmer Rouge rebels holding the three captives had been on the verge of releasing them in early August. But he said international media coverage caused the KR to up their ransom price and for negotiations to break down.

Ranariddh denied he was waging a campaign against the press and appealed for quiet so negotiations would not be disrupted.

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