Opposition party leader Sam Rainsy yesterday said he would go ahead with threatened protests whether or not permission is granted, citing the 1997 grenade attack at a workers’ rights rally as proof of how meaningless such authorisation is.
Speaking at a hastily-planned ceremony – the second in as many months – Rainsy pointed out to the hundreds gathered that consent given by then co-ministers of interior Sar Kheng and You Hockry had failed to stanch bloodshed.
On March 30, 1997, 16 were killed and more than 100 wounded when masked men lobbed grenades into a rally held by Rainsy. More than 15 years later, no arrests have been made and no suspects named.
“Both Excellencies [Sar Kheng and You Hockry] wrote back to me at the time saying that I could hold a demonstration but they would take responsibility. My God! Taking responsibility like this,” Rainsy said.
“Cambodia leaders do not have the spirit of responsibility at all, allowing us to hold demonstration, urging us to enter a trap.”
On Sunday, the Cambodia National Rescue Party announced it would hold another mass demonstration on October 23. A three-day sit-in held at Freedom Park last month remained non-violent, but was marred by clashes elsewhere in the city that resulted in at least one death and numerous injuries.
Given the fallout when legal permission was given, Rainsy said: “If we hold a demonstration and do not have the law[ful right], maybe it is better.”
Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak said it was Rainsy’s “right” to shirk the proper channels, but urged him to seek permission.
“Although there have been problems, if we have cooperation it is better,” he said.
He also stressed that the government was upset, too, about the loss of life in the 1997 attack.
But for Pov Sinuon, who was injured in the attack, such claims amount to little.
“I will not forget it all my life,” she said.