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Journalists Decry Closing of French Paper, Sacking of Editor

Reporters Without Borders Wednesday made a plea for aid for a flagging French publication that has been a daily institution in Phnom Penh 12 years.

The international journalist association also denounced the recent sacking of an editor from the paper after he ran long excerpts of a report indicting top-ranking government officials for fueling illegal logging.

"Reporters Without Borders is outraged at yesterday's decision by the owners of the French-language daily Cambodge Soir to close the newspaper, just two days after unfairly dismissing its news editor for publishing extracts from a long report on illegal logging that was critical of the government," the group said.

Cambodge Soir provides objective daily news in French, but has suffered financially in recent years. Reporters Without Borders appealed to the International Organization of Francophone Countries to intercede in the paper's imminent closure.

"Despite its limited circulation (about 2,000 copies) and recurring financial difficulties, it had significant impact on the Cambodian media landscape, and its reports were often quoted in the Khmer-language press," the group said.

Staff claimed they were handed a managing editor whose purpose was to sink the publication, Reporters Without Borders said.

Meanwhile, the paper's editor was sacked last week for running lengthy segments of a forestry report by the watchdog Global Witness that linked Prime Minister Hun Sen, his relatives and other high-ranking officials to illegal logging.

The report has been banned in the country, and the government told newspapers not to serialize it. The report names several close members of Hun Sen's family and administration as conspirators in illegal logging, including Minister of Agriculture Chan Sarun; the director-general of the Forest Administration, Ty Sokhun; Lt. Gen. Hing Bun Heang, head of Hun Sen's elite body guard unit; and Gen. Sao Sokha, commander of the military police. All of them have denied the report's findings.

Cambodge Soir's attempt to print a detailed story on the report upset some of the paper's owners, including minority shareholder Philippe Monin, who Reporter's Without Borders said was also an employee of the French Development Agency and is an adviser to the Ministry of Agriculture.