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Cablegate: Prime Minister Secures Opposition Newspaper

VZCZCXRO0156
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHPF #0495 1681032
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 161032Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS PHNOM PENH 000495

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/MLS AND DRL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KJUS CB
SUBJECT: PRIME MINISTER SECURES OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER
EDITOR'S RELEASE

REF: PHNOM PENH 472

1. (U) Sam Rainsy Party affiliated newspaper editor-in-chief
Dam Sith was released June 15 from pre-trial detention
(reftel), after Prime Minister Hun Sen submitted a letter to
the Phnom Penh Court President the previous day containing a
personal guarantee for Dam Sith's release. The letter, which
is said to be "confidential" by the court and which Dam
Sith's lawyer has not seen, was quoted in the CPP-affiliated
Reaksmei Kampuchea newspaper. (Note: The term "guarantee"
in the Khmer language is taken to be literal -- a person who
guarantees someone else would be responsible for losses
incurred by that person. In this case, the letter is
understood by a Khmer reader to mean that PM Hun Sen is
taking personal responsibility for the temporary release of
Dam Sith, a guarantee based on a presumed low risk of Dam
Sith fleeing from the charges. End note.) No bail was paid
for Dam Sith's release. Reaksmei Kampuchea also reported
that PM Hun Sen requested in his letter that the president of
the court proceed according to legal procedures. Since an
investigating judge had on Friday rejected the request for
Dam Sith to be released on bail, and Dam Sith's lawyer had
not yet submitted an appeal for a review of the judge's
decision, the judge had to publicly reverse his earlier
decision. In public remarks on Sunday, PM Hun Sen stated
that he does not believe Dam Sith to be a flight risk and
said that he is not acting as a result of outside pressure.
According to The Cambodia Daily, the investigating judge said
the release was a judicial decision. The Ambassador June 10
sent a letter to Hun Sen seeking Dam Sith's release, and
Emboffs followed up with key advisors to the PM.

2. (SBU) After his release, Dam Sith publicly thanked PM Hun
Sen for requesting his release; however, he expressed regret
that he was detained for quoting what someone else said,
adding that other newspapers had printed the quote but he was
the only person arrested for it. (Note: Other papers
carried Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong's denials.
As stated in reftel, Dam Sith was arrested on Sunday, June 8
on criminal disinformation charges related to Sam Rainsy
statements that Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong was
the leader of a Khmer Rouge re-education camp. End note.)
Sam Rainsy told The Mekong Times that Dam Sith's release was
"no thanks to anyone" and that the arrest and release "is a
piece of theater that should not have happened." Sam Rainsy
told Radio Free Asia that the incident just shows that the
power is in the hands of one person and that Cambodia lives
under the tyranny of one person. In a message to Pol/Ec
Chief, SRP Parliamentarian Son Chhay said that Dam Sith was
in jail because of Hun Sen and therefore it is because of Hun
Sen that he is released. However, SRP Deputy Chief of
Cabinet Keo Phirum speculated to Pol/Ec Chief that perhaps
this was a case of Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong
trying, but failing, to show his personal power.

3. (SBU) Dam Sith told POL LE staff that he returned to
work as editor-in-chief of opposition-affiliated Moneaksekar
Khmer on Sunday afternoon. He is still in the running for a
Phnom Penh seat in the July 27 National Assembly elections.
Keo Phirum stated that there is one thing certain -- that Dam
Sith is not going to join the CPP. (Note: One rumor is that
Dam Sith's arrest was sparked by his having spurned a CPP
attempt to convince him to defect to the CPP. End note.)
Dam Sith said he asked his lawyer to negotiate with Hor
Namhong to drop the case. At the same time, Dam Sith and his
lawyer continue to build their defense case against the
disinformation and defamation charges filed by Minister Hor
Namhong, a case that could come to trial at any time during
the next six months, according to judicial procedure.

4. (SBU) Comment: The Ambassador June 10 sent a letter to
Hun Sen seeking Dam Sith's release, and Emboffs followed up
with key advisors to the PM. If Dam Sith's arrest was a CPP
or Hun Sen ploy from the start, it is difficult to imagine
the rationale given that the CPP holds a comfortable level of
public support in the run-up to the July elections, and given
the likely outpouring of sympathy for the detained Dam Sith.
An arrest order by Hun Sen could be argued to have greater
setbacks for the Prime Minister than gains. Nonetheless,
both Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy are working the situation to
their political benefit as best they can now that Dam Sith
has been released. Hun Sen now looks like the benefactor to
the helpless Dam Sith. Sam Rainsy is using the strange court
proceedings, and perceptions of affronts to press freedom, to
lash out at the ruling party. End comment.
MUSSOMELI

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