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PM threatens Koh Pich counter-suit

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Relatives and officials look at bodies of victims of the 2010 Koh Pich bridge stampede. Photograph: Pha Lina/Phnom Penh Post

Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday threatened to counter-sue opposition Sam Rainsy Party Youth Movement president Soung Sophorn if the courts cleared the premier of Sophorn’s charge of premeditated murder.

On Friday, Sophorn filed a criminal complaint with the Phnom Penh Municipal Court alleging Hun Sen, Minister for the Royal Palace Kong Sam Ok, Phnom Penh Municipal Governor Kep Chuktema and former Phnom Penh municipal police chief Tuoch Naruth were responsible for the premeditated murder of 353 people who were crushed to death on the Koh Pich Bridge in a stampede during the 2010 Water Festival.

Speaking to more than 400 villagers in Preah Sihanouk province yesterday at a ceremony celebrating the distribution of land-title certificates, the premier said he would not interfere in the legitimate court process but would take steps to defend his honour.

“On behalf of my rights as a citizen, I will use my right to counter-sue if the court finds that I am not at fault. It is necessary to defend my honour and my dignity, and also the dignity and honour of the government,” Hun Sen said.

“It is clear that at this moment there is no political pressure just because one youth, about 20 years old and president of a political party, filed a lawsuit against the premier of one country: this is a right of the youth, but [you] have to think about the rights of others.

“[If I am] a dictator, I would not allow the case to go to the court, just as Pol Pot never allowed such things to go to court.

“However, I am not speaking much as it may have influence over the independence of the court.”

Sophorn, 25, said his court action was based on the criminal lack of security and planning during the 2010 Water Festival.

The lack of security measures, Sophorn alleges, fostered an environment in which such a massive stampede could occur and kill citizens.

“I am not surprised with a counter lawsuit by the premier, and I will stand at the court by myself without a lawyer to counter-attack if the premier would dare to stand at the court with me,” he said.

“I am not afraid. I have to take legal action to find justice for the deaths of 353 people and the 393 who were injured in the Koh Pich tragedy.”

The youth political leader also said he intended to travel to the Netherlands in December and lodge the same criminal complaint with the International Criminal Court.

To contact the reporter on this story: Vong Sokheng at sokheng.vong@phnompenhpost.com

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