Slaying Sends Chill Through Media Community

The brazen assassination on Friday evening of local reporter Khim Sambor, and his 21-year-old son, Khat Sarinpheata, has had a chilling effect on local journalists, editors and colleagues of the dead newspaper man said Tuesday.

And while the police have no leads yet in the double killing, Cambodian authorities have yet to respond to Monday’s offer from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation to help in the hunt for the killers, an embassy official said.

As a newspaper with strong opposition-party affiliations, Khim Sambor’s publication, Moneaksekar Khmer, had long taken certain security precautions. They did not advertise the location of their offices, and did not post a sign outside the building where their reporters and editors worked.

But that has changed since Friday’s attack, said Sok Phea, 26, a colleague of the late Khim Sambor, 47. In recent days, Moneaksekar Khmer has informed local authorities of its whereabouts in a bid to have extra police protection, Sok Phea said.

“I feel uncomfortable since the killers shot and killed our journalist on the street,” Sok Phea said. “We appeal to our government to find the hit-men so they can be prosecuted in court,” he said, adding that he fully supported the FBI’s offer of help in the case.

Khim Sambor’s shooting marked the 12th journalist slain in Cambodia since the 1993 national election, and not one of those killing has ever been solved, according to the Cambodian Center for Independent Media.

There are 303 newspapers and magazines registered with the Ministry of Information, but of those about 15 to 20 newspapers are for sale on a regular basis.

None of the Khmer-language newspapers are considered politically neutral, which makes them especially vulnerable to attacks and threats, according to a report issued in May from the local rights group Licadho entitled “How Politics, Money and Fear Control Cambodia’s Media.”

“[N]early all [Khmer-language] newspapers, big or small, are owned or backed by powerful politicians or businessmen and reflect their patrons’ political biases in their editorial content,” the report said.

Pen Samitthy, editor of the leading Rasmei Kampuchea Daily newspaper who oversees 24 full-time reporters and about 30 stringers throughout the country, said his staff is concerned following the death of Khim Sambor.

“We have a brief meeting with the reporters and all of them discussed about the cause of the killing,” Pen Samitthy said Tuesday.

“Of course, they are concerned about the situation, but the problem for them at the brief meeting [was that] they cannot understand the real cause of the killing because Mr Khim Sambor was not an aggressive reporter…and not a famous figure among reporters.”

Keo Thea, 43, the publisher of Samleang Yuvachon Khmer newspaper, which is affiliated with the Norodom Ranariddh Party, said that pro-opposition publications and their staff who “dare to criticize the government’s ruling party,” are under “increasing pressure.”

“Now that someone has been killed, we need the government to find the will to find out who the real gunman was so there can be a trial,” he said.

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