Editor's death rattles press
By Nate Thayer
Phnom Penh Post, Sept 23-Oct 6, 1994
The Sept 7 assassination of Non Chan, a well-known editor of a
popular Khmer newspaper, came as little surprise to local journalists and
human rights groups.
The newspaper's staff, which had been openly critical of the
government, had received numerous death threats in recent months. Its
previous editor resigned in late July after being warned he would be
killed. The newspaper, Samleng Yuvachun Khmer (Voice of Khmer Youth), had
been officially warned by the government on at least three occasions since
June, and its journalists threatened with arrest, lawsuits, and
confiscation of their equipment if they continued writing articles critical
of the government and its leaders.
The newspaper, formerly sympathetic to the ruling Funcinpec party,
had been openly critical of Funcinpec leader Prime Minister Norodom
Ranariddh in recent months, accused high officials of corruption and called
for a political solution with the Khmer Rouge to end the civil war.
Investigators say that the broad daylight killing near Wat Phnom by
uniformed men on a motocycle remains unsolved, but comes amidst a general
crackdown against critics of the government, particularly human rights
groups and journalists.
Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh has ordered his government to put
a stop to criticism which he says is harming its image and the ability of
the country to attract foreign investment, tourism and vital military and
other aid from donor countries.
Two high level US delegations arrived last week to discuss military
and other support to Cambodia, which the government views as critical to
waging a fight against the Khemr Rouge and strengthening the government,
which is still wracked with internal disputes after an aborted coup attempt
The Post has learned that Prime Minister Ranariddh and Second Prime
Minister Hun Sen have drawn up plans for a major government reshuffle
expected to be announced in coming weeks. The final details of the
reshuffle have yet to be decided but it could affect more than two dozen
ministers, governors, and military commanders in a shake up designed to
strengthen the hand of the two Prime Ministers after the coup attempt and
to reorganize a military that has proved ineffectual in dealing with the
Khmer Rouge on the battlefield.
But many of the changes are opposed by the Cambodian People's Party
leadership, which is now deeply split between Hun Sen loyalists and a
strong faction loyal to Party boss Chea Sim and Interior Minister Sar
Government sources say that Foreign Minister Prince Norodom
Sirivudh, Finance Minister Sam Rainsy, and the commanders of all five
military regions are targeted for removal from their current positions. A
number of other ministers may also be shifted, senior government sources
But all sides agree that any shifts will have to be approached
delicately and with some degree of prior consensus between the factions
that make up the goverment to avoid provoking another coup attempt.
While Ranariddh and Hun Sen are attempting to construct a formula
to consoldiate power and ease tension within government ranks, they are
also threatening key foreign support by cracking down on government
"The question of the murder of this jouranlist is something which
shocked us and we deplore it. It's been the topic of meetings I've had
here from the top to the bottom," US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State
Peter Tomsen said on Sept 14. His visit came on the eve of a senior US
military delegation which is tasked with recommending the nature of US
military support now under consideration by Washington.
"A free press is absolutely essential to a democracy. If you don't
have a free press then a democratic process is just not possible," Tomsen
Another editor was killed under mysterious circumstances in June, a
further eight papers have been warned by the government, one editor jailed
for writing articles "causing social unrest" and "dissension that threatens
the solidarity of the leadership", and the government says it is now
preparing lawsuits against five others.
Minister of State for Information Khieu Kanharith said the day
after Chan's murder: "If he hadn't been killed, we would have sued him."
Amnesty International had a different response in a Sept 9
statement. "The unexplained death of this man, and other acts of
intimidation, add to the pressures on journalists to exercise self
censorship. The right to freedom of expression is at stake in Cambodia, as
journalists have come under increasing pressure in recent months not to
criticize the government." It added that Non Chan "apparently had no
enemies, personal or financial disputes, [and] might have been killed
because of the articles he printed in his publication."
Four newspapers have elected to stop printing since the killing and
many of their staff have gone into hiding. "In this country now, you
cannot say the truth. If you say the truth you are the enemy," said one
journalist with Samleng Yuvachun Khmer. "The government is afraid of the
Two well-known human rights groups have been threatened by the
government with closure or legal action since the killing of the editor for
insinuating that the killing may have been politically motivated.
A letter this week signed by the chief of the cabinet of Prime
Minister Ranariddh, Ly Thuch threatened to take action against the
Cambodian League for Defence and Promotion of Human Rights, Licadho.
The group had signed a joint statement by local human rights
organizations calling for an investigation on whether the assassins were
connected with the government.
"Your action can be brought to court as it can be considered an
inducement to public disorder and to provoke anarchy," Prince Ranariddh's
Last week, another well-known human rights group, the Khmer
Institute for Democracy, was threatened with closure after it released a
statement calling for an end to harassment of local jouralists in the wake
of the killing.
Two days after the murder of Non Chan, the five-year-old daughter
of an official of the United Nations Center for Human Rights was kidnapped,
shot, and dumped in the street near Phnom Penh's Royal Palace.
Investigators say that the act may have been a simple car robbery,
but privately UN officials have their doubts.
They say that the center had been receiving threats for recent
investigations over military human rights abuses and were actively
investigating the murder of local journalists.
They say that the girl Marica Oliveros, a Spanish national, was
shot point blank through the thigh, without any obvious motive or
provocation, after she was kidnapped.