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Cambodia 15 October 2008

Who masterminded journalist Khim Sambo’s murder ?
FBI pulls out of investigation after press revelations

Reporters Without Borders today urged Prime Minister Hun Sen to quickly create an independent commission of enquiry into the July murder of opposition journalist Khim Sambo following several reports that national police chief Hok Lundy could have been involved, and that the Cambodian police are covering up the crime.

"An investigation is already under way, but the reports implicating the Cambodian police chief are so serious that the government should lose no time in putting independent experts in charge," Reporters Without Borders said. "Doubt will persist about the government’s desire to solve this murder until all the facts have been brought to light. We also urge the police chief to respond to these allegations."

The press freedom organisation added: "We also call on the US authorities to quickly publish the findings of the FBI agents who spent more than two weeks working with the Cambodian investigators on this case."

Several journalists and human rights activists have obtained credible information from people close to Khim Sambo that the police chief, Hok Lundy, was involved in the murder of Khim Sambo who wrote for Moneakseka Khmer ("Khmer Conscience"), an opposition Khmer-language daily, and his 21-year-old son in Phnom Penh on 11 July. They were murdered two weeks before general elections.

People close to the journalist who may have information about the murder have said that they are too afraid to speak to the investigators because they suspect police are involved.

The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post ran a lengthy story on Khim Sambo’s murder at the start of the month. It quoted an independent investigator who said the perpetrators, who were probably contract killers, made no attempt to cover their faces, suggesting they were confident they would be protected by the people who had hired them.

A human rights activist found that the witnesses of the murder have been intimidated and refuse to say what they saw. The Phnom Penh police chief meanwhile issued a statement saying "an FBI official agrees on the fact that the murders were an act of revenge against the journalist’s son."

The FBI agents working on the case left Cambodia a few days after the South China Morning Post ran its story. A Phnom Penh-based news media reported that the FIB had finished their investigation. But it is disturbing that the FBI has ended its participation in the investigation now although US officials originally said the agents would stay until the case was solved.

Khim Sambo often wrote about corruption and nepotism in the ruling Cambodia People’s Party. But one story in particular, which he wrote under the pseudonym of Srey Ka, has caught the attention of journalists and human rights activists who have studied in the case. Less than two weeks before his murder, Khim Sambo wrote a detailed report about a "senior police official" who was not named but was easily identifiable to loyal readers of the newspaper.

Described as "one of the country’s most dangerous men," this police officer is alleged to have gone to a casino in Bavat, near the Vietnamese border, on 25 June, lost all his money, used threats to obtain credit from the casino and arrested staff when they refused to lend him more, according to Khim Sambo’s report.

Hok Lundy was a governor of the Svay Rieng province before he was named national police chief in 1994. Hok Lundy has been a Hun Sen associate since 1979 and one of his daughters is married to the prime minister’s son. Hok Lundy "represents the absolute worst that Cambodia has to offer," Human Rights Watch said about him last year. In 2006, a former Phnom Penh police chief has accused him of being involved in at least 70 extrajudicial executions.

In this country
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Opposition newspaper reporter gunned down two weeks before general elections
16 June - Cambodia
Newspaper publisher freed but still faces trial
19 June - Cambodia
Death threat made against Radio Free Asia journalist
13 June - Cambodia
Francophone organisation asked to help save French-language daily facing sudden liquidation
27 April - Cambodia
Newspaper editor found dead in suitcase

in the annual report
Cambodia - Annual report 2008
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Cambodia - Annual report 2006

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