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Khmer journalists fear for their safety on eve of election campaign

Khmer journalists fear for their safety on eve of election campaign

C\AMBODIAN journalists of all political stripes say the recent shooting of newspaper

editor Thong Uy Pang has made them fear for their safety during the run-up to the

July 26 elections.

In interviews with the Post, local editors and reporters said that they have all

received threats and are taking extra security precautions.

"It is more likely that some people will take the advantage of the campaign

to commit crimes to shut the mouths of journalists," said Keo Sophorn, 39, the

editor of Chakraval, a newspaper widely seen to be pro-government, although Sophorn

insists it is neutral.

He said some attacks may aim "to sour the environment so that the outside world

will see that Cambodia is not stable, so the election will have to be delayed. Or,

they will create unrest to terrify investors so that they will withdraw from Cambodia

and put the economy into crisis, to put blame on the government."

Ou Sovann, 31, the editor of Samleng Yuvachun Khmer (Voice of Khmer Youth) said:

"I have been very frightened to go out. I always stay at home for my own safety.

I rarely go to public places, and when my friends or relatives invite me to a party

or a wedding ceremony, I apologize to them for not risking to go."

Journalists say the threats usually come by telephone or they find they are being

followed wherever they go.

The editor of the pro-opposition Udom Katei Khmer (Khmer Ideal) said that after his

articles criticized top officials in the government, he received a phone call advising

him not be so strong.

"You are stronger now than before. Are you afraid of any thing?" the caller

said.

Nhek Bun Chhin, 36, a political adviser of Moneaksekar Khmer (Khmer Conscience),

said: "A few months ago, six people on two motor bikes followed me wherever

I went, and my friends who are in the armed forces told me to be more careful with

my security."

Before the fighting last July, Pen Samitthy, 38, the editor of Rasmei Kampuchea (The

Light of Cambodia) left his mobile telephone at home with his wife. An anonymous

caller thought that his wife was his secretary, and asked her to tell Samitthy to

go home immediately because there were problems there.

"This may be a type of threat toward me," said Samitthy. "If I had

gone home, I don't know what would have happened to me on the way."

Five journalists have been killed and many others injured since the 1993 UN-sponsored

election, according to the UN Center for Human Rights. Since then there has been

only one arrest and no successful prosecutions of the attackers.

"With Cambodia preparing for elections on July 26, it is imperative that journalists

are free to practice their profession without fear of reprisal," said the New

York-based Committee to Protect Journalists in a June 10 statement. "Failure

to find Thong Uy Pang's attacker, could have a chilling effect on the press."

In its meeting on May 15, the Council of Ministers formed a committee to oversee

safety and security during the election.

"I don't believe much in the government commitment because so far it has taken

many measures to crack down on crime, but crime is everywhere, not reduced,"

said a journalist who asked not be named.

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