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'Selective' Coverage After Murders: Reporter

The murders of an opposition journalist and his son in Phnom Penh Friday night have sent a ripple of self-censorship through his old newspaper, journalists said Monday.

Khim Sambor, 47, and his 21-year-old son, Khat Sarinpheata, were gunned down as they drove on a motorbike near Olympic Stadium Friday evening, just 16 days away from a national election.

Khim Sambor died at the scene, and his son died at a local hospital a few hours later. Both men were cremated in a Buddhist ceremony Sunday.

The killings have meant a change in the way Moneaksekar Khmer will operate, the editor said Monday.

"We don't know if there will be other pressure after the murders. We must be very careful, even for security, and in the work," the editor, Dam Sith, said. "We are afraid that if we write something risky, it could bring us in front of accusations."

Dam Sith was held in jail for a week last month following a story he ran implicating Foreign Minister Hor Namhong as a member of the Khmer Rouge.

He was released when Hor Namhong dropped defamation charges against him, and Dam Sith swore at the time to continue his pro-opposition coverage of the country.

Now, his stories will reflect a more cautious editorial approach. Self-censorship on the meaning of story text and the choice of words will change, he said.

"The murder of Khim Sambor is a serious threat against Moneaksekar Khmer," Dam Sith said. "We are worried now for the whole staff as they are reporting, and when they get back home."

Other Moneaksekar Khmer journalists echoed Dam Sith's concerns.

"We are concerned in accomplishing our jobs," said Vong Sopheak, a reporter for the newspaper. "We don't know what will happen to us, and so we must be more careful. We don't want to have a confrontation. And now we are selective of the information and selective of the topic."

Khim Sambor had covered politics, including the reporting of stories on government corruption, for the newspaper, which is affiliated with the Sam Rainsy Party.

Human rights groups said his murder was likely due to his reporting. Khim Sambor had reported for many years, and focused on conflicts, election irregularities, illegal logging, fisheries crimes, land grabbing, "which are related to powerful Cambodian officials," the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee said in a statement. His murder was likely related to his reporting, the group said.

The killings were roundly condemned by local and international rights groups.

"Allowing this murder to go unpunished would have a considerable impact on the 27 July elections, and we therefore hope the investigation will produce quick results," Reporters Without Borders said in a statement Saturday.

Moneaksekar Khmer is only one of two opposition newspapers.

A third, Sralanh Khmer, began reporting from a pro-Cambodian People's Party point of view following the defection to the ruling party of its top editor, Thach Keth, who is now a CPP undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Information.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy called Khim Sambor's killing a political assassination and called for an immediate investigation.

"When one who dares to write or argue against those with absolute power is assassinated, the perpetrators behind the killing are never found nor tried according to the law," he said in a statement Saturday. "This clearly demonstrates the nature of those in power."

Sam Rainsy also called for further investigations into murders of other opposition supporters, including labor leader Chea Vichea, parliamentarian Om Rasadie, "as well as countless numbers of journalists, political activists and others."

Police have made no arrests in Friday's killings.

The US Embassy issued a statement Monday offering the help of its Federal Bureau of Investigation office "if requested by the Cambodian government."