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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Sar Kheng: grenades and elections

Sar Kheng: grenades and elections

Sar Kheng, Deputy Prime Minister and co-chairman of a joint Funcinpec-CPP problem-solving

committee, is also the co-Minister of Interior. The senior CPP official spoke to
Jason Barber Apr 11 about a pattern of political violence his ministry has

so far been unable to stop.

Q: The joint [Funcinpec-CPP] committee recently seemed to be making progress

on the issue of elections. Do you fear that the recent violence and political disagreements

in Phnom Penh may jeopardise that progress?

A: The coordinating committee of the two parties was settle

any questions both parties [may] differ on, as well as to promote further progress

of the political situation. This committee has gradually achieved results... We met

again on March 25 and solved a number of issues... Those were results we are proud

of, although there remains [no] response from Funcinpec on the issues of the election

monitoring body and the date for the election. However, according to unofficial information

those issues can be settled. So, up till now we have gradually curtailed our disagreements

surrounding the issue of elections, except for issues such as the Constitutional

Council, Supreme Council of Magistracy. In case the Supreme Council of Magistracy

and the Constitutional Council could not be set up, my idea is that if political

parties all agree, we can set up a provisional council to take charge of supervising

the monitoring mechanisms of the electoral process, to unlock the current situation.

This is only in case no solution can be found through legal principles already adopted.

These issues are not in my competency, it is rather subject to [the decisions of]...His

Majesty the King, the National Assembly and the Prime Ministers.

Concerning the [grenade attack] event on March 30, I think this was a threat to the

process of election preparation. It caused a lot of disappointment from the international

community, as well as the national one. No matter what will happen, I still hope

and remain committed to encouraging the holding the elections. Only those who don't

want to see elections held will create obstacles to prevent these elections from


Through a committee working on the [grenade investigation] we have received information.

But to have sufficient information we will issue an announcement seeking information

from witnesses, Cambodians and foreigners who saw or knew the criminals. They should

provide information to the Ministry of Interior and the ministry will guarantee protection

of their lives, maintain secrecy of those sources and will accord them with rewards

for their information.

We remember that one hour after the event, there was a press conference called by

Sam Rainsy. At that time he announced that the first grenade came out of the National

Assembly. That information was broadcast all over the world. We need confirmation

of that information because at that time, accroding to our knowledge, there were

three Members of Parliament [in the National Assembly grounds]. And according to

police investigation, there seemed to be no sign that the grenade came from the side

of the National Assembly. He [Rainsy] was asked whether it was true, but he said

he didn't see it. But we are in a great need to know who told him that.

This is the first story. The second one is that [Rainsy] said the CPP and Hun Sen

were behind the grenade attack. This was important information which we would like

to welcome, but we ask that proof be provided. This matter is not a joke or an issue

[to be] used to accuse each other. But it was rather unfortunate that when we invited

him to clarify this information to us, he went overseas... He [said] that he had

planned that trip a long time ago, but comparing that trip with the tragedy, I think

it is not as important as the tragedy. So, if he wanted to clarify this case he would

have stayed. For the second time, I wrote to [KNP senior officials] Kong Koam, Khieu

Rada and another come to clarify this case, but regretfully Khieu Rada

refused and he also left the country. According to a police report to me, he said

that he wouldn't work with the police. I would like to say that the police that are

investigating the crime do not belong to any party, but they are national police.

So, there is a number of issues that need clarification from the KNP. As we know,

he [Rainsy] called a moto-dop driver [a witness] for questions [at a press conference],

but he never supplied the police with that information. We continue to pool our efforts

in pushing forward this work which is the first priority for the police.

There was the accusation that the Second Prime Minister Hun Sen was the one who mastermined

the [attack]; I don't just blind-foldedly defend Samdech Hun Sen but I would like

to draw a story for us to analyze. [It has been said that] the chief of the police

of Phnom Penh is the nephew-in-law of the Second Prime Minister and the Phnom Penh

governor has been ill and the next highest official is very close to the Second Prime

Minister, so if the investigation pointed to the Second Prime Minister being responsible,

it's like the Second Prime Minister will 'politically kill' the investigation. I

do not agree with such an accusation. I'd like to tell you that this event is in

the middle of what I call a 'political campaign'. [People] do whatever they can to

gain popularity. That's what I want to say about this event.

One reason why accusations have been made against the Second Prime Minister is

because of the presence at the park of soldiers, apparently part of the Second Prime

Minister's bodyguard unit. Was their presence unusual?

I need confirmation about this matter, but what I saw in newspapers...was one

soldier in the park. But I think if [Hun Sen] wants to [harm] those demonstrators

who are unarmed or have nothing to defend themselves, I believe that he wouldn't

have to bother using such massive [presence] of troops. Let me remind you of some

events in the past for analysis but not for any accusation. Before the elections

[in 1993], one party, I will not name it, decided to throw a grenade in front of

its headquarters in order to blame others for it.

Are you suggesting that the KNP was responsible for the attack?

I don't have that point of view. It's just there was a party, I will not name

it - there were two cases carried out by them by throwing grenades in their compound,

while blaming others. Everyone knew that it was in Battambang and Banteay Meanchey

provinces. I knew because I was leading a campaign there.

If the soldiers were not aware of what was going to happen, why do you think that

they did not react to the grenade throwing and attempt to catch the people responsible?

I have not asked those soldiers yet.

Do you think the soldiers will be interviewed as part of the investigation?

Yes, generally speaking not just the soldiers but all those who participated [or

were] near there. That's why there is an appeal [for witnesses to come forward].

The First Prime Minister has said he does not trust the Ministry of Interior inquiry.

Why should the Cambodian public trust the ministry to do a proper investigation?

I don't understand why, in his capacity as a PM, he doesn't trust a ministry under

his direction. That is his problem. But what I'm doing is to serve my country. But,

I'l like to underline one thing: the event that happened did happen as [part of]

a political trend. It was not out of calmness that this event occured. Problems that

arise one after another are also in [line with] that political trend. It is true

that the Ministry of Interior partly, but not wholly, takes responsibility for what

happened on March 30. I'm not afraid of responsiblity, but the reality is like that

and the world sees it the same way... To make this government strong, [we] must not

let political parties be strong. Because if we let political parties be strong, application

of laws certainly cannot be carried out. And if the power of political parties is

strong, no matter how strong the Minister of Interior is, he cannot act. Because

we issue orders in the framework of the Ministry of Interior, but they don't listen

to the Minister of Interior rather than their party. So what can we do? In a communist

state with a single party, the party controls all power. The party has army, police

and power. But in the framework of democracy, the army belongs to the entire nation,

so do the police and the government. So whatever leaders say, [they] must take responsibility

for it. The nation's fate will face uncertainty if leaders speak without responsibility.

I want to say that we must act by the words we speak.

Do you believe that there's any prospect at all of anyone being arrested for this

grenade attack?

If I knew for sure [who was responsible], I'd arrest them right at this hour,

today; it cannot be delayed. But, for example, the problem about exporting marijuana.

A few days ago we seized 7 tons of marijuana, but before this tens of tons of marijuana

were already shipped out of Cambodia. Each case needs a chance for action to be taken.

So, what I'm doing I have hope that it will be successful. Another example - the

Japanese national [alleged counterfeiter and former Red Army terrorist Tanaka] ...we

knew he was a currency forger and that he was in Cambodia, but it took us two months

to arrest this one man. I have written a letter to the United States Embassy here

about the March 30th attack, to ask for a specialist to draw a picture of the attacker(s)

from the evidence that can be provided by witnesses.

But you don't agree with the First Prime Minister's proposal of United Nations'

crime experts to help?

I don't agree with an international investigation. But [if] I require experts

to assist the committee that the Ministry of Interior created, that is okay.

Previous investigations into such incidents, particularly the BLDP grenade attack

in 1995 and the murders of several journalists, have failed to produce any arrests.

Why should this investigation be any different from those?

Yes, [the BLDP attack] was a serious case but smaller in size compared to this

one. We started the investigation; as long as no one is yet found, the case will

remain open for further investigation... I'd like to praise the police, although

some of them still have uncertain ranks, for the spirit they have in doing their

job... There have been rumors about curruption, bribery. It's difficult. In fact,

there is [corruption and bribery] - that we can not deny. But, the government must

provide them with a living standard which makes them stable at work. In March, I

visited Singapore and there the minimum salary of the police is $1,000 a month. We

cannot find a solution like that...

But it appears clear that there is a pattern of political violence in Cambodia

and a pattern of the people responsible not being brought to justice. Is this the

fault of the Ministry of Interior or are there other reasons, outside of your control,

why investigations have continued to fail?

I can not make an assessment that it is the fault of this or that person. I think

what we have not yet solved we continue to work hard to solve. Usually, the perpetrators

want to [hide] evidence and, as I already mentioned, the skills and means facilitating

the work of our police are still limited. In this kind of situation, we can not act

beyond the capability we have.

One investigation where there has been a result is the investigation into the

murder of [Hun Sen's brother-in-law] Kov Samuth. The UN Human Rights Representative

has expressed concern that the three suspects arrested have had their Constitutional

rights breached by the police?

This case has passed from police responsibility. The police have already forwarded

it to the court. It is up to the court.

But the UN Human Rights Representative has complained that the police detained

these men for at least two weeks before the case was sent to the court?

The important issue is that the three individuals asked to keep [their arrests]

secret. We have written statements [requesting this] from them.

At your meeting several days ago with representatives of Cambodian NGOs, you told

them that the Ministry of Interior will not authorize any more public demonstrations.

How long do you think this ban will remain in place?

I seemed not to have mentioned clearly about this issue, so I'd like to deny it.

So it is not correct that if anyone applies for permission to hold public demonstrations,

it will be denied?

No one will prohibit [them]. But we have the right to determine the venue and

time for the holding of demonstrations. In fact, that [Mar 30] demonstration should

not have been allowed to be held on Sunday. It should have been held on Monday when

the National Assembly works. I took a rather soft position because if we denied [permission],

they [would have] criticized the Royal Government.

So in the future if the KNP wants to continue to hold demonstrations, the ministry

will agree, depending on the time and place?

We don't make any preference. My opinion is only this - that the KNP does not

have any other work except this [demonstrations]... This is the right of all citizens,

they have the right to do this. I only ask the organizers and the authorities protecting

the demonstration to cooperate with each other. Even having a wedding party or funeral

at home, you still need cooperation from local authorities... According to our knowledge,

there is one member of KNP steering committee who is responsible for security. It

is also my observation that three vice-presidents and more than 10 members of the

steering committee have been expelled by Sam Rainsy. One of them who died on Sunday,

as we have learned, was already expelled. But the expulsion paper was not yet issued

to him. I cannot confirm it as true, but it is according to information we received.

This is a matter of internal affairs of a political party. But it also interesting

to notice why there has been a lot of expulsions like that. Why have thousands of

members of his party in Kampong Cham and Prey Veng left hs party to join other parties?

So one possibility to be investigated is whether this has a connection to the

grenade attack?

I have not come to that thought yet




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