Government officials say Beehive Radio founder Mam Sonando’s bid to recoup money he claims was stolen during the 1997 factional fighting is both misguided and exaggerated.
Mam Sonando continues to push Prime Minister Hun Sen to refund about $60,000 he said was seized by government soldiers during the three days of street battles five and a half years ago. He said troops loyal to Hun Sen attacked his radio station, destroying equipment and stealing money.
Although the staff begged the soldiers not to destroy the station, “they smashed everything,” Mam Sonando said.
But government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Monday he thought Mam Sonando was wrong about the amount of money owed to him, saying that crime victims tend to overestimate their losses.
He also said the radio operator was wrong to ask Hun Sen for compensation, saying that shortly after the 1997 fighting an investigative committee was set up to review claims of lost property.
Though Mam Sonando said the committee has yet to refund any money, Khieu Kanharith said it has compensated some factories by excusing them from paying import and export taxes on certain goods.
Mam Sonando said he needs at least $50,000 to buy equipment that could be used to expand his station’s coverage.
“I want to increase the radio frequency to answer the people’s demand, but I don’t have enough money,” Mam Sonando said. Supporters across the country have donated $2,000 to help fund the project, but that amount falls far short of the total needed to overhaul Beehive Radio.
“Please [tell] Prime Minister Hun Sen to refund the money that I struggled to find in France. It wasn’t money I earned in Cambodia,” Mam Sonando said.
He said he is upset by the premier’s alleged promise to refund money to those who suffered losses during the fighting.
During the fighting, a radio staff member taped the soldiers’ attack when the station was housed in the China Town Hotel, now known as the Queen Hotel in Daun Penh district .
Minister of Information Lu Laysreng recently reported that 80 percent of radio listeners tune in to Beehive Radio, which was recently ordered by the government to stop broadcasting Radio Free Asia and Voice of America feeds or face closure. Mam Sonando complied with that order rather than close his station.
The US on Monday protested the cancellation of the US-funded radio broadcasts and called on the government to reverse the move, Agence-France Presse reported.
“This programming brought to Cambodian listeners balanced and fact-based reporting on issues regarding Cambodia, the region and the world, as well as information about the people and culture of the United States,” Deputy State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said in a statement.
“Voice of America and Radio Free Asia provide objective and factual reporting and programming that serves the interest of the Cambodian people,” he said.