Gov’t Drops Lawsuit Against Newspaper Over 1997 Street Battles

The Information Ministry on Friday agreed to withdraw a lawsuit against the pro-Funcinpec weekly newspaper Khmer Amatak after its editor-in-chief promised to retract an article that characterized the CPP’s victory in the 1997 fighting as a coup d’etat.

The ministry on July 12 lodged a complaint at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, accusing the newspaper of criminal disinformation after it commemorated this month’s anniversary of the 1997 fighting in Phnom Penh, referring to the event as a coup.

The government has long reacted testily to what it views as mischaracterizations of the bloody tank and troop street battles in which forces loyal to then-CPP Second Prime Minister Hun Sen defeated those loyal to his partner in a governing coalition, Funcinpec First Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh.

Mr Hun Sen in 1997 angrily denounced both the US and the UN after they criticized the CPP’s military victory as undemocratic.

Khmer Amatak Editor-in-Chief Bun Tha said yesterday that he had written Friday to the Information Ministry to offer to retract the article in return for the withdrawal of the lawsuit.

“I wrote to the Information Ministry that I would correct the article and it has caused the ministry to withdraw its complaint against me,” he said, explaining that his article had been entitled “13th anniversary of the coup as a sign all powers belong to Hun Sen.”

Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith was unavailable for comment yesterday. However, Nhem Noy, the ministry’s director of information, said Mr Kanharith had ordered the ministry to withdraw the lawsuit on Friday after receiving Mr Tha’s letter.

A retraction has not yet been printed in Khmer Amatak, though Mr Tha said that one would be forthcoming.

“The Ministry of Information did not want to sue the paper but wanted them to print the correction. That is fine,” Mr Noy said.

In a complaint to the municipal court, Mr Kanharith said the July 5 article could harm the government’s interests.

“This article is not true, and it could cause confusion among the public and international community,” the minister’s statement said.


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