Newspaper Defamed Company, Judge Rules

The Municipal Court Thursday ordered an opposition newspaper to pay thousands of dollars in com­pensation for defaming a company and two army generals in an article implicating them in illegal logging.

The Voice of Khmer Youth, a pro-Sam Rainsy Party newspaper, was found guilty of printing false information and defaming the Mong Reththy Group and RCAF Division 44.

The newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Keo Sothea, was ordered to pay 30 million riel (about $7,500) to the company and 20 million riel ($5,000) each to Military Region 3 Commander Keo Samuon and his deputy, Keo Pong. Judge Kim Sophorn also fined the paper 1 million riel ($250) for printing false information.

Kim Sophorn said the article damaged the honor and dignity of the victims because there was no evidence the charges were true.

Bun Honn, the newspaper’s lawyer, defended the October 2001 article, saying the paper only cited a 1998 report by environmental watchdog Global Witness.

“The paper did not print an exaggerated story in order to defame” the company and the generals, Bun Honn said. “It only quoted from Global Witness.”

The paper quoted the Global Witness report as saying that RCAF Division 44 was collabora­ting with Mong Reththy’s Pagoda Boy Construction Company and Talam Resources, which it said had a concession but no permit to cut timber in Koh Kong province.

According to the report, Mong Reththy did not have a concession or cutting permit, but both companies were cutting trees illegally with the help of the military.

Puth Theavy, the company’s lawyer, said Mong Reththy Group has a land concession for a palm-oil plantation in the area.

Keo Pong denied that his soldiers were involved in illegal logging. “In fact, we are helping to stamp out illegal logging with local authorities and forestry officials,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Phann Ana)


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