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Candlelight Party to hold grenade attack memorial

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Sam Rainsy, then-president of the Khmer National Party, is carried away after the grenade attack in 1997. DAVID VAN DER VEEN/AFP

Candlelight Party to hold grenade attack memorial

The Candlelight Party will hold a memorial service on Friday for the victims of the 1997 grenade attack on an opposition rally at Wat Botum Park, an attack that resulted in at least 16 deaths and more than 120 injured, including former opposition leader Sam Rainsy.

Four American-made grenades were lobbed into a group of Khmer National Party supporters, at the time led by Rainsy, who were rallying at Wat Botum to call for an independent judiciary. The resulting carnage, which Rainsy
narrowly escaped, killed at least 16 people.

Candlelight Party official and former Senator Yu Seangheng said Phnom Penh City Hall had granted the party – which comprises the renamed remnants of the Sam Rainsy Party – permission for around 100 people to congregate on Friday at Wat Botum Park, where a small memorial to the victims of the attack is located.

“It is just a small event and is nothing related to politics. It is a religious ceremony. There will be no speech and nothing other than religion,” he said.

This will be the opposition’s first public event since the arrest of former Cambodia National Rescue Party President Kem Sokha in September and the forced dissolution of the party in November.

In the meantime, Rainsy has formed the Cambodia National Rescue Movement, which includes former Candlelight members, but has been labelled a terrorist group by Hun Sen.

While a local investigation into the 1997 attack yielded no results, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted an inquiry due to the fact that an American national was injured in the attack.

The investigation was ultimately cut short because then-US Ambassador Kenneth Quinn was reluctant to sour relations with Prime Minister Hun Sen.

However, the FBI report contained details that supported the opinion of Rainsy and others that the ruling party was behind the attack, with the report also finding soldiers allowed the perpetrators to pass through a security cordon, but blocked civilians trying to catch them.

City Hall spokesman Met Measpheakdey said the religious ceremony had been given the green light but that attendees were not allowed to deviate from the memorial service.

“There will be no forum to express comments and attack top government institutions, the King and other elites. That deviates from the request,” he said, adding banners and loudspeakers were forbidden as well.

He added that there could be a security presence to maintain public order.

Former CNRP lawmaker Mu Sochua said the attack was still remembered by Cambodians across the world. “It’s important that the spirits of the victims be honoured and that justice be served. This annual memorial is to say exactly that.”

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