PHNOM PENH�Pro-democracy programming on an opposition-backed Cambodian radio station has been suspended, after what sources here describe as a government ouster of the station director, RFA's Khmer service reports.

Acting on orders from the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, Phnom Penh police stormed in and removed Nhem Sophanna as director of the popular FM90-mhz radio station on Monday, turning the station over to the widow of the station�s former director.

FM90-mhz immediately suspended all pro-democracy programming by human rights activist Kem Sokha and the Cambodian Center For Human Rights, of which Kem Sokha is the director. Sources who asked not to be named indicated that the entire staff of the radio station had been sacked, also on Monday.

The U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh voiced concern in a statement that the dispute �might result in the loss of a vital source of news and information to the Cambodian people.�

Kem Sokha's programs, all of which which are sponsored by U.S.-based NGO International Republican Institute (IRI), cover public affairs issues in Cambodia by hosting discussions with guest politicians, authorities, and people from the community, allowing them to freely express their opinions. The programs also were broadcast eight hours daily on Phnom Penh-based Beehive Radio.

�The United States believes that equal access to the airwaves is an essential cornerstone of democracy. The United States will closely follow the outcome of this dispute and maintain active support of Cambodians to express their opinions freely,� the statement said.

Details surrounding Keo Sophea's installation as station director remain unclear. But an arrest warrant, obtained by RFA�s Khmer service and dated Dec. 22, 2003, accuses her of taking part in an alleged financial fraud on April 22, 2003 and then disappearing. Keo Sophea declined to comment on the record for this report.

Police have not acted on the arrest warrant since Keo Sophea officially resurfaced to take control of the station.

Nhem Sophanna has filed a civil lawsuit against Keo Sophea that was scheduled to be heard in the municipal court on Thursday, but was postponed due to the death of the court president�s wife that morning. No new date was set for the hearing.

Before the hearing was cancelled, Nhem Sophanna told RFA, �I am ready to fight my rival in court on Thursday. If I win the case, I will bring all programs back on the air,� he said.

FM90-mhz is backed by royalist FUNCINPEC Party, which opposes the goverment of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

A spokesman for Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP) declined to comment on the matter, saying it would be decided in court. "It is not a political matter," Khieu Kanharith told RFA. #####


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