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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Grenade victim's painful years of justice denied

Grenade victim's painful years of justice denied

After shrapnel tore into her abdomen and showered her whole body during the grenade

attack of March 30, 1997, Or Sinath was loaded into a truck with the dead.

"I was surprised... it reminded me of the Pol Pot regime when many people died

in front of me," Sinath said on the seventh anniversary of the event.

Fortunately someone realized Sinath, then a 39-year old garment factory worker, was

still alive and took her to receive the extensive surgery needed to save her life.

About 8:30 am that morning, four grenades were lobbed into a crowd of around 170

people taking part in a Khmer Nation Party (KNP) demonstration urging judicial reforms.

Sinath had been standing a few meters from Sothearos Boulevard, in the park opposite

the National Assembly, when she heard the explosion of the first grenade and turned

into the force of another.

Twelve people are known to have died in the blasts. On the seventh anniversary of

the killing their portraits sat in a row on the small golden stupa built at the blast

site to mark the tragedy.

Sitting under a marquee on March 30 this year - which a few minutes earlier had shaded

Sam Rainsy (1997 leader of the KNP and of the protest) as well as senior Funcinpec

officials as they took part in the annual memorial service - Sinath wriggled in her

wheelchair as she lifted her shirt slightly to show her scars.

Her abdomen was a mess of thick welts, her legs thin and damaged. Sinath said she

will never walk again. It is only with the help of human rights group Licadho and

the Sam Rainsy Party that she and her husband, who also has a disability, can support

their five children.

"Now it is very difficult to sit in a wheelchair and not move or do anything,"

Sinath said with obvious frustration. "I appeal to international organizations

to find justice for me."

Despite international pressure and an FBI investigation, that justice has so far

proved elusive. Opposition leader Sam Rainsy has repeatedly accused Prime Minister

Hun Sen of masterminding the attack and on February 2 this year launched a $50 million

lawsuit against him.

The case continues, with two witnesses to the attack giving evidence to Phnom Penh

municipal court prosecutor Yet Chakriya on April 7, said Sun Dina, the lawyer representing

Rainsy's case.

Dina said five more witnesses will testify after Khmer New Year.

He said the evidence being given was similar to that contained in an unclassified

FBI report, released in November 1998. The investigation was undertaken because American

citizen Ron Abney, then-director of the International Rebublican Institute, was injured

in the blast.

In a September 1999 staff report to the Committee on Foreign Relations of the United

States Senate, the introductory "letter of transmittal" from James Doran,

a staff member for East Asian Affairs, reached the following conclusions:

"Members of Hun Sen's Bodyguard Force participated in the planning and execution

of the March 30, 1997 attack [and] Hun Sen, being only one of two people with authority

over the Bodyguard Force, must have known and approved of the attack."

Dean's conclusions were based on the FBI investigation, media reports and interviews

done in Cambodia, Thailand and the United States.

Witness statements documented in the FBI report described two of the men involved

in the attack running through a line of bodyguards and into Wat Botum.

Attempts to chase them were thwarted when the bodyguards pointed their weapons at

the would-be pursuers and one of them was kicked to the ground, reported the Post

at the time.

In June 1998, Chum Bun Thoeun and Chhay Vee made a videotaped confession to representatives

of the Sam Rainsy Party, admitting being part of the attack. This confession was

later repeated before the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Phnom Penh and

to the FBI in Bangkok.

However, both men recanted their confessions in November 1998 at the home of Om Yen

Tieng, an advisor to Hun Sen, and both men disappeared soon after.

Another suspect in the case, nick-named "Brazil" and closely resembling

an FBI sketch of suspects taken from witness accounts, was said to have briefly been

in the custody of Funcinpec General Nhiek Bun Chhay.

An FBI request to interview Brazil was turned down by Sar Kheng, Minister of Interior,

and he has also gone missing, presumed by many to be dead.

Although the final paragraph of the unclassified FBI report said "all investigative

leads are complete", there have been calls from Cambodia and abroad for the

agency to return to the case.

So far, there has been no indication they will.

So for victims like Sinath, who has returned to the scene of the tragedy for the

last seven annual memorials, the wait for justice goes on.

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