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
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.