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Independent stampede probe nixed

National Assembly president Heng Samrin has rejected an opposition request that the parliament establish a special commission to probe last month’s bridge stampede.

In the letter, dated Friday and obtained yesterday, Heng Samrin said a parliamentary enquiry was unnecessary, given the previous government investigation into the tragedy.

“There is no need to establish [this special committee], because the royal government has already arranged it completely,” Heng Samrin wrote.

353 people lost their lives, and a further 395 were injured when thousands of Water Festival revelers panicked on a bridge leading to Diamond Island, triggering a stampede.

The government’s official response to the tragedy, released a week later, determined it was an accident triggered by the swaying of the suspension bridge. Prime Minister Hun Sen announced no officials will be held responsible for the incident, describing it as a “joint mistake”.

Heng Samrin’s letter followed a request from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, dated November 30, which requested that a special parliamentary commission be established to investigate the disaster, including representatives from all political parties that have seats in parliament.

The SRP argued a new commission was necessary because the government’s investigation did not assign responsibility for the incident.

Acting SRP spokesman Kimsour Phirith yesterday blasted Heng Samrin’s refusal, saying the government is constitutionally bound to conduct an independent inquiry.

“We cannot accept this response because it shows that the assembly is under the government’s power,” he said.

“Constitutional law states clearly that the institution of the assembly is independent and when there are such incidents, the assembly – elected by the people – must also investigate.”

Kimsour Phirith said that in most democratic countries, such a disaster would trigger far-reaching probes. As an example, he cited the 9/11 Commission, set up to investigate the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.

Hang Chhaya, chairman of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, urged Heng Samrin to take the SRP’s request into consideration.

“The opposition party wants to help and to have a complete investigation. This special motive should be taken into account by the assembly,” he said.

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