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Friday, July 25, 2008

Fears multiply after murder

Fears Multiply After Murder

Journalist’s Family Urge Govt to Work with FBI

Written by Cheang Sokha and Porter Barron
Friday, 25 July 2008 (The Phnom Penh Post)

The relatives and friends of slain opposition journalist Khim Sambo and his son Khat Sarinpheata say the investigation into their murders has stalled and are urging Cambodian authorities to cooperate with the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Khim Sambo, a journalist with the Sam Rainsy Party newspaper Moneaksekar Khmer, was gunned down on July 11 while riding a motorbike with his son outside Olympic Stadium.

The deaths stunned the community and outraged rights groups and journalist’s organizations, who claimed the killers were trying to stifle press freedoms ahead of the July 27 general elections.

“If the killing was related to powerful, high-ranking officials, the investigation would progress quickly and the perpetrators would be arrested immediately. But for normal families the killer is never found,” said Khim Laurent, Khim Sambo’s brother.

“The government should cooperate with the [US Federal Bureau of Investigation] to find the killers. I think the FBI does not believe the Cambodian authorities can arrest them, because they offered their help.”

Three days after the assassination, the US embassy volunteered the FBI’s assistance to the Cambodian authorities, but an embassy spokesman said this week the Cambodians had not taken up the offer.

A senior Cambodian police official, who asked not to be named, explained: “The Cambodians do not need any assistance from the FBI. We have enough ability to handle this on our own.”

Meanwhile, Moneaksekar Khmer has shuttered its offices although it continues to publish. The shooting followed last month’s week-long arrest of the paper’s editor-in-chief Dam Sith on defamation charges filed by foreign minister Hor Namhong.

Dam Sith is also a Sam Rainsy Party election candidate, and his detention was roundly criticized by rights group as an effort to intimidate the press before the polls.

“Since Dam Sith was arrested and Sambo was murdered, the office has been closed,” said a reporter who also did not want to be named.

“The editor-in-chief has instructed all of the staff not to meet anyone in person for security reasons. We can only talk by phone. The office will reopen when the situation is better.”

A second Moneaksekar Khmer reporter appealed for authorities to catch Khim Sambo’s killers, saying, “We are worried for our safety.”

People are scared to talk. This is the same as the Chea Vichea case.

“Arrest the real killers, not the fake killers like the case of Chea Vichea,” referring to the 2004 daylight shooting of Cambodia’s top labor leader.

The two men convicted in his death are largely thought to have had nothing to do with the murder of the popular opposition-aligned unionist.

As with Chea Vichea’s killing, Khim Sambo’s death has cast a pall of fear over those who knew him, with frightened witnesses hesitant to come forward.

Several have disappeared and are thought by the victims’s family and rights workers to be in hiding.

“People are scared to talk. This is the same as the Chea Vichea case,” said Chan Soveth, a human rights worker with the Cambodian group Adhoc.

Deputy Military Police Chief Pol Davy on July 24 dismissed the notion of a political killing, saying: “After the shooter fired, his son screamed out to the witnesses, ‘Please help! Please help! It’s a revenge issue!’”

Municipal Police Chief Touch Naruth also attributed the killing to a personal dispute, and he claimed progress in the investigation. “We have a sketch of the shooter, based on information from the witnesses.”

But rights groups are skeptical.

“The Cambodian authorities should surprise everyone for once and hold accountable those responsible for Khim Sambo’s murder, no matter their political allegiance,” said Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch.

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