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16 crushed to death as police 'panic'

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16 crushed to death as police 'panic'

Sixteen people were crushed to death on King Norodom Sihanouk's birthday as thousands

of visitors attempted to leave the Royal Palace once the night's firework display

began. They found themselves trapped when police refused to let them leave.

One palace guard said the catastrophe could have been avoided if police had listened

to their advice. He accused them of panicking.

Police, however, put the blame on "gangsters" who they said caused panic

in order to pickpocket the crowd.

The fireworks began at 7:00 pm, prompting thousands of palace visitors to surge towards

the exit on the east side, facing the Tonle Sap River, from where the fireworks were

launched.

They were met by police who told them to leave by a gate on the north side. Police

on the north side also refused to let anyone out and told the crowd to return to

the east gate. People were crushed and trapped for nearly an hour before police realized

something was seriously wrong.

Throughout the ordeal, the east gate remained open but witnesses say police ignored

the pleas from the dying and injured, barring the exit instead.

Government plays down KR threat

Solving the Khmer Rouge problem is not a high priority for the new government according

to the recently appointed Defense Secretary, Ek Sereywath. He said that alleviating

the poverty in rural areas was more important than ensuring general security.

But in an interview with the Post on November 2, he spoke at length about the government's

efforts to combat the Khmer Rouge. He said the government was trying its best to

solve the problem through dialogue and negotiation.

The former Deputy Information Minister said 30 to 40 Khmer Rouge soldiers were turning

their weapons into the government every day. Nationwide more than 2,800 KR soldiers

have defected to the government.

The government currently has five camps for re-educating Khmer Rouge defectors: two

in the Phnom Penh area at Dei Eth and Russey Keo and one each in Siem Reap, Sisophon

and Kampong Thom.

Sereywath confirmed reports that Khmer Rouge leaders including Ta Mok, Nuon Chea

and Ieng Sary had recently visited front line guerrilla commanders to discuss plans

for a dry season offensive. However, he said the government was prepared to deal

with any Khmer Rouge military activity.

Gun fever grips capital

As many as 300 Phnom Penh residents apply each week to register guns at the Ministry

of National Security. Only about 100 applications are rejected on average. With the

exception of police and military, some 3,809 guns, including 2,874 handguns, have

been licensed to date, according to Thiem Bun Seng, deputy head of the ministry's

gun and explosives control office.

Owners include government officials, ordinary citizens and private companies. Those

allowed to take their weapons outside include heads of government departments and

their deputies, provincial governors and executives of large companies.

More than 450 unregistered guns were confiscated at police checkpoints in the capital

in the first nine months of this year, including 135 assault rifles and 30 hand grenades.

When the Ministry of National Security recently declared a weapons "amnesty",

only two guns were handed in.

Applicants for a gun license must apply to district governors and then to the ministry,

which will also re-check backgrounds before licenses are issued. Buying a gun is

a relatively simple procedure. At the army market on Pochentong Blvd, dealers can

provide a selection of weapons ranging from handguns to grenade-launchers.

Sihanouk cancer treatment

King Norodom Sihanouk has undergone chemotherapy for cancer of the prostate which

was discovered several months ago.

In a message from China, where he is undergoing treatment, the King said his doctors

had removed a cancerous tumor but more treatment was needed to keep it from resurfacing

in another part of his body.

If chemotherapy is not effective, the King said, he would have to undergo radiotherapy

and take traditional Chinese medicine.

UNTAC reels from claims rash

An insurance claims officer said that people were literally throwing themselves in

front UNTAC vehicles in an attempt to cash in on insurance payouts.

Each day, in front of the UNTAC/SNC building, the claimants gather early to make

their case for compensation. UNTAC is struggling to deal with a huge backlog of claims

by people who believe the organization has injured them in some way.

One man who suffered a motorcycle accident asked UNTAC to pay because he has applied

for a UN job.

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