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Cambodia accuses US-funded broadcasters of opposition bias

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PHNOM PENH, Oct 11 (Reuters) - Cambodia has threatened legalaction against two U.S.-funded radio stations, accusing them offavouring opposition parties and promoting U.S. foreign policy,sources said on Thursday.

Representatives of Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Voice ofAmerica (VOA) were called to a closed-door meeting on Wednesday.

The government complained about their coverage of borderdemarcation issues with Vietnam and the Oct. 1 jailing of abroadcaster and land rights campaigner for "secessionism", twosources who attended the meeting told Reuters.

The dressing-down comes amid criticism by rights groups ofthe government for leaning on the judiciary to silence the smallnumber of critics in the country who dare to speak out.

RFA and VOA broadcast locally in the Khmer language and areamong the few radio stations in Cambodia considered free ofgovernment influence.

One source said an official present at the meeting labelledthe two broadcasters "rebel and opposition radios".

"They wanted the radio stations to report more about theactivities of the government and they don't want RFA to be usedas a campaign for opposition parties," the source told Reutersunder the condition of anonymity.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan, who chaired the meeting,declined to give details of what took place but said thestations were urged to report responsibly.

"Free press means accuracy, no bias and withprofessionalism," Phay Siphan said.

Both sources said the two stations were told to change theirreporting or face unspecified legal action, adding they wereaccused of propagating policies of the U.S. State Department.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. embassy in Phnom Penh declined tocomment on the meeting but appeared to back the two stations.

"In general, the United States supports freedom ofexpression and press, and through their reporting, VOA and RFAseek to epitomise that," the spokeswoman said in an email.

RFA described the meeting as "a blatant attempt todiscourage objective reporting on the government".

"The Cambodian government clearly does not understand theprinciples of a free press or the important role of independentmedia if it thinks it can intimidate RFA and dictate what we canor cannot report on," U.S.-based spokesman John Estrella said ina statement.

(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Martin Petty)

((prak.chanthul@thomsonreuters.com)(+855 12 666 297)(ReutersMessaging: prak.chanthul.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

Keywords: CAMBODIA MEDIA/