Senior government officials have said they will not jump to any conclusions about
the alleged planting of three time- bombs in Siem Reap, but will instead concentrate
on thoroughly investigating the case before commenting.
That comes in the wake of comments from police officers that were reported in the
press stating that the attack had political overtones. Such talk alarmed politicians
and observers alike.
The opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) said it was watching the case closely, out
of concern that the foiled attack could be a prelude to a wider crackdown ahead of
the general election scheduled for July 2003.
Co-Minister of Interior You Hokry told the Post that the police investigation was
continuing. Seven people had so far been arrested on suspicion of planting the three
time bombs, which were packed with TNT explosive.
"I cannot say whether it is [related to] a political issue or if it is a terrorism
act," said Hokry. "Those who were arrested said they were hired to plant
Khieu Kanharith, secretary of state of the Ministry of Information, also said the
government had as yet drawn no conclusions, and would not do so until the investigation
was wrapped up.
The police found the bombs on the evening of December 15 in a brothel in the city,
Kanharith said, and they were later defused by a demining expert.
If the bombs had exploded, that would have coincided with a meeting of ministers
from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, who were in Siem Reap to discuss
rural development. Prime Minister Hun Sen also attended the conference Dec 16.
Opposition MP Son Chhay, who represents Siem Reap, speculated that the bombs might
instead have been designed to intimidate the SRP ahead of the general election.
"Such events always happen before [each] election," said Chhay. "[For
instance] the July 5 - 6 coup d'etat in 1997, and the Cambodian Freedom Fight-er's
attack [in November 2000] prior to the commune elections."
He said similar acts had occurred in other countries to crack down on political opponents.
"They set up such activities to crack down on dissidents," said Chhay.
"They arrest those who are against them and put them in prison."
The SRP added that a party member who was reportedly arrested in connection with
the bombs was in fact arrested for an unrelated offense.