Authorities are seeking to arrest Lach Samroung, editor of the sporadically published Sathearanak Matti (Public Opinion) newspaper, for allegedly being the information minister of the anti-government group the Cambodian Freedom Fighters.
Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng, co-minister of interior, said Tuesday authorities have enough evidence to confirm Lach Samroung’s involvement in the CFF, which is blamed for the Nov 24 attack on government offices that left as many as eight dead.
“There are some documents to prove his involvement,” Sar Kheng said. “But an arrest warrant has not been issued yet.”
Khieu Kanharith, secretary of state at the Ministry of Information, said Lach Samroung often changed the tone of his newspaper to favor one political party or another. “I don’t think he had an affiliation with one particular party,” he said.
A relative of Lach Samroung, 37, says he doesn’t know where the newspaper editor is, and he hasn’t seen him in weeks.
“Nobody was concerned that he was missing because he’s always going someplace and hardly stays at home,” the relative said. “But we don’t think he’s involved in this. Maybe somebody cheated him or he’s being wrongly accused.”
Lach Samroung was seen almost every day more than a month ago at a house on Street 242, where he rented a room with Richard Kiri Kim, the Cambodian-American in custody who confessed to leading the attack.
The owner of the house, who spoke on condition of anonymity, identified Kiri Kim and Lach Samroung from their pictures. She said the two, who told her their real names, began renting the room on Oct 18 for $50 a month.
“I was very surprised when I saw Kiri Kim’s picture in the paper after the fighting,” she said. “They just told me they were making a newspaper.”
Kiri Kim, Lach Samroung and others met daily in the 3 meter by 4 meter room during the day. People came in and out of the house constantly, according to the landlady, neighbors and mototaxi drivers outside.
“Many people would come here to meet with Lach Samroung and Kiri Kim,” the landlady said. “They would come in civilian, military and police uniforms.”
Another person who often came to the home was Pra Hit, one of the four Cambodian-Americans charged with terrorism and membership in an illegal armed force, according to mototaxi drivers outside the home who often drove Pra Hit around town.
The room is stark, with a wooden table taking up most of the space. A map of the world hangs on one wall and a map of Cambodia and its neighboring countries on another. The tenants also left a cooler, a table and some glasses.
A copy of a Ministry of Information permit allowing Lach Samroung to change the name of his paper from Sakal (Universal) to Public Opinion, dated Dec 11, 1996, was left taped to the wall.
The morning after the fighting, one of the alleged rebels, named Ra, stopped at the house, the landlady said.
“I asked him if he knew anything about the fighting, and he said he didn’t know,” she said.
Since then, she has not seen Lach Samroung or anyone else who used to meet at her house. She says she would like to see them again because they haven’t paid her rent since Nov 18.
“Nobody came to investigate at this place,” she said. “Only my neighbor heard the group chief say I shouldn’t let journalists stay here anymore. But we are keeping their things in case they come back.”
(Additional reporting by Gina Chon)