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Cambodian Crackdown

Three human rights activists are under arrest in Cambodia. Pa Nguon Teang, deputy director of the U.S.-funded Cambodia Center for Human Rights, was detained on January 4th. Already in custody were Kem Sokha, the center's director, and Yeng Virak, director of Cambodia's Community Legal Education Center.

They were detained on December 31st and charged with criminal defamation for their public criticism of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. According to news reports, the charges against the human rights activists were made after they displayed a banner allegedly accusing Hun Sen of being a communist who sold Cambodian territory to neighboring Vietnam.

These arrests follow closely the December 22nd conviction in absentia of Sam Rainsy, a member of Cambodia's parliament, on charges of defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh. Rainsy was fined and sentenced to eighteen months in prison. Mr. Rainsy had accused the government of involvement in a 1997 attack on an anti-government rally in which at least sixteen Cambodians were killed and more than a hundred others injured.

In October, Mom Sonando, a radio broadcaster, and Rong Chhum, head of the Cambodian Independent Teacher Association, were arrested on defamation charges for questioning a controversial border treaty with Vietnam. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says the U.S. condemns the Cambodian government's crackdown and the most recent arrests:

"This is the latest in a series of arrests and lawsuits targeting critics of the Cambodian government and the cumulative effect of which is to call into question the Cambodian government's commitment to democracy and human rights."

State Department spokesman McCormack says the U.S. is urging the Cambodian government "to reverse. . . .the erosion of freedom and democracy."

The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.