Police in Kompong Chhnang province on Tuesday said they were looking for three suspects in the murder of a local journalist on Friday night and may soon add more names to the list, but still had no motive for the attack.
However, the provincial coordinator for rights group Licadho said he had investigated the case and found that the murder likely was not related to the victim’s work as a journalist.
Provincial police chief Ath Khem said the attack followed a verbal dispute between Suon Chan, a reporter for the little-known Meakea Kampuchea newspaper, and the suspects, but added that police still did not know what the argument was about.
“They are from the same village as the victim,” he said. “We are searching for them since they have escaped.”
On Monday, the newspaper’s publisher, Sieng Seng, speculated that the killing was “revenge” for the stories Suon Chan had been writing about illegal fishing in the area.
However, Kong Chanmony, provincial coordinator for rights group Licadho, who interviewed witnesses to the attack, said he had concluded that the fight likely had nothing to do with the question of illegal fishing.
“The investigation shows that the fighting between both parties did not happen due to a professional matter,” Mr. Chanmony said.
Mr. Chanmony said that both the suspects and Suon Chan’s group had been drinking at the time of the confrontation.
Suon Chan’s brother, Suon Dim, who was also injured by the assailants, said he did not know why they were attacked, either, or if it had anything to do with his brother’s reporting.
“They [the assailants] live here. I don’t know why they beat us up,” he said.
Mr. Dim said he and his brother were drinking alcohol in front of their house with about five friends when Suon Chan went to buy cigarettes from a nearby stall, where he was approached and attacked with bamboo poles by a group of about 10 people. He said the same group pelted him and his friends with rocks at the same time.
Mr. Dim said he recognized some of the assailants and insisted that he, his brother and their friends had never had any arguments with them before.
Ry Phalleang, who worked with Suon Chan at the Meakea Kampuchea, said he did not know why his colleague would have been attacked, either, but added that he too was now worried for his safety.
Mr. Phalleang said he and Suon Chan worked at the newspaper, which publishes infrequently, out of a sense of social responsibility and that they did not receive any salaries.
Moeun Chhean Nariddh, who heads the Cambodia Institute for Media Studies, said he knew the paper as one of the many small publications across the country that publish rarely and irregularly and instead of paying their reporters a salary give them a few dollars per story.
He said it was “very common” for some journalists at these small papers to try earning a few extra dollars by using their positions to earn money by writing—or not writing—stories about individuals involved in unlawful activities.
(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)