The publisher of a well-known Phnom Penh newspaper and his bodyguard were shot Monday morning at a city wat. Both took bullets in the chest but are expected to survive, according to doctors.
Thong Uy Pang, 53, who publishes Koh Santepheap (Island of Peace), was shot at close range by an unknown assailant at 8 am at Wat Toek Thla, according to his sister-in-law, Kim Srey, an eyewitness to the shooting. One of the publisher’s bodyguards, 41-year-old Yim Chhoeun, also took a bullet in the chest, she said.
The assailant walked up to Thong Uy Pang and members of his family as they approached a stupa built by the family. The man smiled, then pulled out a
K-59 handgun and shot the publisher twice in the chest.
Yim Chhoeun stepped in front of his employer and took a bullet in the chest, according to the publisher’s wife, Kim Phany.
“This person knew our habits and knew we would be there,” Kim Phany said.
As the assailant fled, a second bodyguard, who was also a chauffeur, shot four bullets, striking the attacker at least once until his handgun jammed, Kim Srey said. She saw blood trickle down the assailant’s arm as he got on the back of a motorcycle driven by an accomplice, she said.
She described the shooter as about 30 years old, with a light complexion and wearing a blue shirt.
The publisher and bodyguard were immediately taken to Calmette Hospital. An unidentified doctor said that after two hours of surgery, the conditions of both victims were stable.
Khoun Sophon, Phnom Penh penal police chief, said they are investigating the case as a personal dispute.
Intervention and military police guarded the victims’ rooms at Calmette Hospital in the hours after the attack.
Ministry of the Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak described the newspaper as pro-CPP and pro-Second Prime Minister Hun Sen. “So far there’s no conclusion whether this is a political attack or not,” he said.
A UN Center for Human Rights worker said Monday evening that the organization is aware of the case and is investigating.
Thong Uy Pang received a threatening phone call shortly before he arrived at the wat, according to office manager Chhum Yim, who said such threats are an everyday occurrence at the paper.
“Every day, every week, every month, every year, we get such phone calls,” he said.
He said the paper had received a number of phone calls during the past week connected to a series of articles alleging that Electricite du Cambodge bill collectors were gouging the poor.
The caller said: “What you are writing is not true. You will be killed,” Chhum Yim said.
In October, unknown assailants lobbed two hand grenades at Thong Uy Pang’s home in the early hours of the morning, damaging the house and a printing house next door but causing no injuries.
That attack came shortly after the paper ran critical articles about National Assembly and CPP President Chea Sim. But at the time, the publisher said he did not know who was behind the attack and added: “I have a lot of enemies.”
Norbert Klein, of the local NGO Open Forum, which monitors the local press, said the paper leans toward the government side, but “is not strictly a CPP paper.”
“There is obviously criticism of authorities such as police and military police [in their articles],” he said.
The newspaper, which is known more for its coverage of crime and corruption than politics, has a daily circulation of about 4,500, Chhum Yim said. The front page usually features a series of lurid crime photos.
Reporters Sans Frontieres faxed a letter to Second Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday, asking that he intervene in the case. “Reporters Sans Frontieres requests that you intervene to ensure that Thong Uy Pant’s assailant is brought before the courts and the exact motives for his act are clarified,” Reporters Sans Frontieres General Secretary Robert Menard wrote from Paris. “Our organization also requests that a more concerted effort be made by the Cambodian police and law courts in tracking down the murderers of journalists, so that a ‘culture of impunity’ is not perpetuated.”