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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Grenade attack lights fuse of crackdown

Grenade attack lights fuse of crackdown

AGITATED

An hour after hearing of the grenade attack, a visibly angry Hun Sen boarded a helicopter in Siem Reap and flew to the capital.

WHOEVER pulled out the pins on the grenades thrown into Second Prime Minister Hun

Sen's compound also set off the country's recent political explosion.

The dispersal of the pro-democracy sit-in, moves towards the arrest of opposition

figure Sam Rainsy, prevention of opposition figures from leaving the country, and

crackdowns on protesters swiftly followed the blasts.

On hearing that two grenades had exploded at his house Sept 7, an angry Hun Sen raced

to his house from Siem Reap, where political talks were about to fail. He made a

spectacular helicopter landing in front of Independence Monument, inspected the light

damage, and held a press conference to decry the blasts as an attempt "to topple

the present government" and "to destroy the result of the election".

He admitted the attack was unlikely to have been an attempt on his life. But he linked

the blasts to the anti-government demonstration in a nearby park, calling for the

protesters to disperse and announcing that the demonstration leaders should be arrested.

"This grenade has been used during the illegal demonstration," he said,

charging that demonstrators had "destroyed social order".

"How many people to be arrested is up to the prosecutor to decide," he

said, declining to name names, but adding that demonstration leaders should be prevented

from leaving the country.

Asked about opposition figure Sam Rainsy, who has been instrumental in leading the

demonstrations, Hun Sen said: "I hear the police general staff gave the order

for his arrest already" - although that night Interior Ministry director-general

of administration Prum Sokha announced that Rainsy was merely being sought for questioning.

As for co-demonstration leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh, Hun Sen said: "If there

is a request for the arrest of Ranariddh, I would not object to that. It is the competence

of the prosecutor."

Hun Sen's announcements triggered the chain of events that is still being played

out in the streets of the city:

Rainsy is holed up at the office of the United Nations Special Representative's office

in Hotel Sofitel Cambodiana, where he went to deny any connection with the grenade

attack before word of his possible arrest surfaced.

Police charged and cleared the "Democracy Square" demonstration the next

day, driving out protesters and razing the tent city. Police have been breaking up

spontaneous demonstrations several times daily since in various parts of the city,

including the area around Ranariddh's house and the US Embassy.

And since opposition parliamentarian Kem Sokha was prevented from leaving the country

at Pochentong Airport on Sept 10, he no longer sleeps at home.

"When I give my passport to the immigration police for the stamp... they say

I cannot go," Sokha reported of his attempt to attend a Son Sann Party congress

in Bangkok. The immigration staff told him the order to prevent him from boarding

his flight came from Interior co-Minister Sar Kheng or National Police Director-General

Hok Lundy, Sokha said.

"Now, Cambodia is like a prison. We are all, Cambodian people, in the prison,

not only me," he said, adding that he is now too afraid to stay in his home.

"If they won't let me go out, it means they want to do something bad to me."

Sar Kheng's spokesman, Khieu Sopheak, cited Hun Sen's comments in the Sept 7 press

conference as the reason for Sokha's restriction pending the investigation of the

grenade attack.

Asked if such a restriction on the right of free movement was illegal, Sopheak said:

"The authorities comply with the order of the Second Prime Minister, who is

also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The Ministry of Interior is also

under the command of the government."

Hun Sen also appealed Sept 7 to foreign embassies not to harbor demonstration leaders,

asking them "not to become a refuge for terrorists".

At Post press time, police had not arrested anyone, including the demonstration leaders,

in connection with the grenade attack.

DUD?

A grenade lies in the street outside Hun Sen's home.

According to police and witnesses, two men on a red motorbike drove up to Hun Sen's

house - just off Independence Monument - at 9:50am. One man in a grey or light-blue

shirt dismounted, pointed a gun at the guards, who lay down, and lobbed two grenades

over the wall. He then escaped on the moto. A third, undetonated, grenade was found

later outside the compound.

The damage to the house - where Hun Sen rarely stays since his main residence is

in nearby Takhmao - was minimal, seeming to consist of broken front and side windows

and smashed front steps. No one was hurt.

Phnom Penh municipal police chief Neth Savoeun said his units and the Interior Ministry

are investigating but had not arrested any suspects yet. He added that moto driver

Sorn Sophan, 37, was killed by a mob on Norodom Boulevard who mistook him for the

culprit.

However, witness reports collected by rights workers say that a group of police beat

the man to death.

Witnesses of the grenade attack wondered why Hun Sen's many guards, or the police

always stationed at the northeast side of the monument, did not catch the attackers.

With no suspects in custody, the capital is involved in a speculative game of 'whodunit'.

Could the culprits have been ordinary citizens, fed up with Hun Sen and wanting to

express their anger?

Could Hun Sen have planned the attack on his own near-empty compound, in order to

provide the government with an excuse to crack down on the tenacious protesters and

opposition leaders, as Rainsy contended at a Sept 9 press conference? "No one

believes Hun Sen about the grenade attack. He organized everything himself,"

Rainsy alleged.

Or could the opposition have orchestrated the attack, in order to provoke the premier

to "use force against the demonstration, this would lead to bloodshed, in this

way to destroy the results of the election", as Hun Sen surmised?

The government appears to be building several types of case against Sam Rainsy.

An arrest warrant has not yet been issued, Municipal Court investigating judge Mong

Monichariya told the Post Sept 10, but a letter requesting Rainsy to appear in court

for questioning was issued Sep 8.

"This letter is different from an arrest warrant," the judge said, adding:

"I think that taking him is also to protect him."

Monichariya said the charges pending against Rainsy are fourfold under the UNTAC

criminal code: incitement of racist discrimination (Art 61); incitement to commit

achieved crimes (Art 59); incitement to commit non-achieved crimes (60); and vandalism

of state assets (44).

Rainsy said Sept 2 that he did not believe the government would ever arrest him,

despite having tried to build cases against him "four or five times already"

in the past.

"There would be an uproar ... I hope they are not that stupid," he said.

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