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Friday, November 16, 2007

Cambodia 'not a perfect place' for journalists, says union

Siem Reap, Cambodia - Murders of Cambodian journalists may have decreased in recent years, but the threat is increasingly becoming one of legal intimidation, the country's most powerful journalist union said Friday. The Club of Cambodian Journalists (CCJ) made the statement at a two-day meeting of local and international journalists, government officials and representatives of the Konrad Adenhauer Foundation in this northern city, some 400 kilometres from the capital.

"Cambodia is not a perfect place for journalists. There were six journalists killed between 1993 and 1997. In recent years, while there have been no killings, arrests, threats and legal intimidation have become of increasing concern," the CCJ said.

"The trend against press freedom has turned from violence to legal means as politicians and others become more sophisticated."

A spokesman for the CCJ said while the 2003 shooting of royalist radio journalist Chour Chet Tharith was perhaps the last murder of a journalist, in 2006 alone there were seven lawsuits and arrests and 12 serious threats recorded against CCJ member journalists.

Ministry of Information secretary of state Srey Channy countered by saying that Cambodia respected press freedom, but no journalist had the right to abuse their position for personal or financial gain.

"Press freedom without responsibility can also put democracy in danger. Therefore I appeal to Cambodian journalists to stick to the principals of journalism and perform their duties ethically and professionally," Channy told the meeting.

Cambodia recently decriminalized defamation but it still carries hefty financial penalties.
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Girls name Russian in Cambodia sex case

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - Nineteen girls have claimed they were sexually abused by a Russian businessman arrested in Cambodia last month — the largest number of children to allege abuse by one person, police said.

Alexander Trofimov, 41, the chairman of Koh Puos Investment Group Ltd., was detained in the southern resort town of Sihanoukville and accused of raping at least six girls. He was charged Oct. 17 with debauchery — a Cambodian legal offense covering sexual abuse of children.

Investigations since his arrest indicate he may have abused as many as 19 girls, said police Maj. Gen. Bit Kimhong.

"Never has there been anything like this," Bit Kimhong said.

The victims are now between the ages of 11 and 18 but were younger at the time of the alleged abuse, said Samleang Seila, director of a Cambodian child advocacy group, Action Pour Les Enfants. At least two of the alleged victims were sold to the Russian by their parents, he said.

If convicted, Trofimov could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison for each offense, though the total number of victims he will be charged with abusing will be known only when his case comes to trial.

Three Cambodians were also arrested and charged in the case, said Bit Khimong.

Poverty and weak law enforcement make Cambodia a preferred destination for foreigners seeking to prey on children.

In September last year, the Cambodian government gave Trofimov's company permission to develop an island near Sihanoukville into a tourist resort. Koh Puos, or Snake Island, is located just off Sihanoukville, about 115 miles southwest of the capital, Phnom Penh.

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Police Clash Over Land Leaves 2 Villagers Dead

By Chiep Mony

An armed standoff between hired gunmen and reported victims of a land grab has left at least two villagers dead and five injured in the northern province of Preah Vihear, officials said.

Sor kim Ol, Preah Vihear deputy governor, said villagers had incited the violence, and the security forces had only defended themselves.

"The authorities did not open fire on the villagers; that is only their right of self defense," he said. "At first the authorities just shot into the air, and the villagers came toward them."

The villagers were driven from their land following its sale to businessmen, said Chan Saveth, an investigator for the rights group Adhoc.

"When the villagers were aware that the land was sold to bad businessmen and not for any preservation purposes, they started to protest against that," he said.

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