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
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.