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Press incidents heighten concerns

Press incidents heighten concerns

I N recent days, a newspaper publisher's house was grenaded and a reporter was fatally

shot, while several papers and a TV program were criticized, warned or suspended.

Although the motives for the violence are still not clear, together the incidents

are raising questions about what degree of freedom and safety the Cambodian press

enjoys.

"I'm very scared now, I don't dare go out," said Thong Uypang, publisher

of Koh Santapheap (Island of Peace) newspaper.

He was unhurt after a pair of unidentified men on a motorcycle tossed two grenades

at his house in the early hours of Oct 15. One device exploded outside the walls

while the other went off inside the compound, damaging a car and smashing windows.

"It's too early to say if the motive was political or not," said Mok Chito,

head of the municipal criminal police.

However, Uypang's newspaper recently published articles critical of CPParty president

Chea Sim, and Uypang has implied such criticism may have prompted the attack.

An international journalists' group, Reporters Sans Frontieres, sent an Oct 15 letter

to King Norodom Sihanouk asking him to move to "to guarantee the free flow of

information and the safety of journalists."

Two days before the attack, a Cambodian reporter was shot dead by a security guard

at a Phnom Penh market. Ou Sareoun was investigating illegal payments which guards

allegedly demanded from market vendors, according to his director.

Sareoun was working for Samleng Reas Khmer (Voice of the Khmer People) newspaper.

His father, the publisher, has publicly alleged that his son was killed because he

had criticized the government, although police declined to comment on the motive.

Several Cambodian reporters have been killed or wounded in recent years after apparently

angering powerful figures. However, local human rights workers said that they are

not sure about the motives behind the recent incidents.

Meanwhile, confusion reigned over whether an outspoken democracy activist's political

television show had been canceled. The "Programs and Solutions" talk show,

run by Khmer Institute for Democracy director Dr Lao Mong Hay, "is already closed",

Information Ministry media chief Leng Sochea told the Post .

But Khieu Kanharith, Secretary of State for Information, denied the closure. "There

has been no official decision - up to now he can continue to broadcast."

Khieu Kanharith acknowledged that he had spoken to Lao Mong Hay to express his displeasure

about the activist's comments at a recent seminar in Bangkok. "He said there

is no freedom, no democracy, that [opposition] MPs are barred from entering the country

... we ask him at least not to blindly attack the government."

Mong Hay was unavailable for comment at press time. But sources close to him confirmed

that while he had been unofficially notified of the closure, a meeting with Khieu

Kanharith had "settled the problem" and that the programs could continue.

In other recent incidents, a Khmer-language newspaper, Antarakum (Intervention) was

suspended by the government after printing a photo of rebel military chief Nhek Bun

Chhay's head superimposed on Second Prime Minister Hun Sen's body.

"[The editor] apologised, and I allowed them to resume their publication,"

said Khieu Kanharith.

Another newspaper, Prayuth (Fight), has not resumed publication after being suspended

for 30 days for allegedly exaggerating government casualty figures in northern Cambodia.

Although Kanharith said the paper was free to resume, Prayuth staffers claim that

a government lawsuit is preventing further publication.

Khmer-language Chakraval (Universal), seen as pro-government, received a warning

for claiming the suicide of the King would be "a happiness for the Cambodian

people."

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