IN the wake of Sunday's carnage outside the Cambodian legislature, commentators from
home and abroad have roundly condemned the act, but none have singled out who may
have masterminded it.
The reactions to the massacre have been largely those of neutral shock and indignation.
Across-the-spectrum, condolences to the families of the victims, and calls for condemnation
of those who were behind the grenade attack, have poured in from the King, Cambodian
politicians, the diplomatic corps, and human rights agencies.
But few have also been willing to admit whether this has dealt a body-blow to prospects
of democracy and free-and-fair elections in post-Untac Cambodia, while others from
ASEAN states painted a relatively bright picture.
"It's a major escalation of political violence," is the way Australian
Ambassador Tony Kevin put it. "It's an atrocity, it's an atrocity."
From Beijing where he is undergoing medical treatment, King Norodom Sihanouk issued
a statement hours after the attack that captured the pathos of the moment.
"Some people have never abided by the words and ideas of [the Constitution],"
"Until now, Cambodia has not known a state of Law. This situation has caused
our nation to lose its dignity before the international community...
"I prostate myself before and respect the spirits of our children who have lost
their lives, and bless their spirits to be in heaven away from all the sadness that
has happened in Cambodia," the King concluded his letter.
His son, First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh, was also quick to react to
Sunday's bloodshed in a communiqué.
"The perpetrators of this heinous crime are deplorable and must be condemned
vehemently by all peace loving Cambodians and people in this country," the Prince
said. "This is a totally unacceptable and barbaric act in our society."
With few exceptions, apart from the stock condolences and condemnations, all was
relatively quiet on the diplomatic front.
The Americans were the first to condemn the attack, but were somewhat subdued and
terse in their manner.
"We extend our sympathy to the families of those who died and our wishes to
the wounded for prompt recovery," said US Ambassador Kenneth Quinn.
"Attacks like this can cause great harm to efforts to promote democracy and
advance human rights in Cambodia. It is imperative that all in Cambodia do everything
possible to avoid any future violence which could put at risk the significant progress
Cambodia has made in recent years."
As for three main European embassies - the French, the German and the British - besides
the standard and succinct condemnations of political violence - they withheld comment.
Franck Gellet, the spokesman for the Embassy of France also declined to say why the
organizers of the Southeast East Asian Film Festival went ahead with a gala dinner
staged at the Royal Palace on Sunday night, just meters from the morning's slaughter.
As for the representatives of Southeast Asian nations, Kamal Ismaun, the Malaysian
Ambassador and designated spokesman for ASEAN in Phnom Penh, also expressed his shock
and indignation at the atrocity, but was more optimistic in his outlook for Cambodia.
"If you look at the situation now, it appears that things are going back to
normal," the emissary said.
"I think that now I must congratulate the efforts of the government which is
trying to defuse the tense situation.
"I have a lot of confidence in this country. The political leaders will have
the vision not to destroy what they have built until now."
He added: "When they join ASEAN [it will give the country] added confidence,
and perhaps the political leaders here will be more conscious of their responsibilities
towards building the country."
But a handful of others - whose countries or organizations have invested a lot into
laying the foundations of Western democracy in Cambodia - fretted about the run-up
to the local and national elections set for 1997 and 1998.
"We hope this is not a sign of things to come in the lead-up to the elections,"
said Shigenobu Kato, minister at the Japanese Embassy, Cambodia's largest aid donor.
In a rare statement sent from the UN Secretary-General's office in New York, conveying
Kofi Annan's horror at the attack on Sam Rainsy, the KNP faithful and others, a spokesman
touched on this point:
"[The Secretary-General] also calls on all sides to exercise restraint and to
do their utmost to ensure a political process conducive to the holding of free and
fair elections scheduled for 1997 and 1998."
Tony Kevin was perhaps the most vocal of the diplomats reached for comment at press
"Some of the things that happened in Cambodia over the last three years - journalists
and editors being assassinated, and so on, have been pretty terrible - but this is
more than that," he elaborated.
"This is an act of public, random violence. No political gathering by any party
should be subject to that risk.
"We call on the Cambodian government to take immediate and effective measures
to uphold the Rule of Law, to ensure that such an outrage doesn't occur again, and
to bring the perpetrators to justice.
"It is vital to that the free expression of peaceful political opposition should
be guaranteed in the run-up to the national elections in 1998 on which Cambodia's
future depends, and that such acts of political intimidation don't occur again.
There were also some sharp words from human rights groups, Amnesty International
and the UN Center for Human Rights in particular.
"Previous attacks have been condemned by all sides, and yet the perpetrators
have never been identified and prosecuted," Amnesty said in a statement faxed
from its secretariat in London. "Amnesty International hopes that the formation
of an independent investigation commission announced on 31 March, will finally break
the cycle of impunity for human rights violators in Cambodia."
Thomas Hammarberg, the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Human Rights
in Cambodia, was even more direct.
"This was a clear attempt to assassinate the leadership of an opposition political
party who was conducting a legal and peaceful demonstration," he said.
Hammarberg expressed concern "at the suggestion that the target of this attack,
Mr Sam Rainsy, should be arrested for staging an illegal demonstration."