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UN Official Criticizes the Arrests of Journalist and Union Leader

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Representative for human rights in Cambodia, Peter Leuprecht on Thursday criticized the Cambodian authorities' arrests and detention of radio station Beehive 105 director,Mam Sonando, and President of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, Rong Chhun, who have criticized Prime Minister Hun Sen about the border issues.

In a statement VOA received Thursday, Mr. Leuprecht urges the government to release these activists immediately. Rong Chhun was arrested because of his comments about the loss of Cambodia territory and his criticism on the Supplemental Border Treaty to the 1985 Border Treaty with Vietnam signed by PM Hun Sen during his recent visit to Vietnam. The opposition party, human rights activists, leaders of social civil societies have called the treaty illegal and contrary to the 1991 Paris Agreement.

In the statement the UN Special Representative said "these events raised a number of concerns relating to freedom of expression, which is enshrined in Cambodia's Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

He appeals for the immediate release of all critics of the government and the withdrawal of all arrest warrants for Prince Sisowath Thomico, former personal secretary of former King Norodom Sihanouk, and several members of Cambodia Watchdog Council.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith who is also Minister of Information, dismissed Leuprecht's statement, saying that Mam Sonando and Rong Chhun were not arrested but were "detained" because they were trying to flee the country before the court could ask them questions on defamation charges. He said the "detention" of only one journalist in Cambodia on defamation charge should not be a concern. What is a concern, he said, is that some other countries may follow the US example by throwing journalists in jail for not revealing their sources.

Kanharith added that the activists' charge that PM Hun Sen is a traitor and that he has given land to Vietnam is a serious matter that the court has to take actions.

The government spokesman claimed that the freedom of press in Cambodia is far better than in the US.