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Explosive device found near National Assembly

Bomb explodes near National Assembly
An improvised bomb explodes into a ball of flame across from the National Assembly after being detonated by Cambodian Mine Action Centre officials. HENG CHIVOAN

Explosive device found near National Assembly

AN EXPLOSIVE device was found across from the National Assembly this morning, and three M79 shells were found near Wat Phnom.

The devices were found just two days before the opposition party is set to hold a mass demonstration at Freedom Park, which they have said will likely spill into Wat Phnom .

Military Police spokesman Kheng Tito said there were no suspects yet and the investigation remained ongoing.

“We cannot say it’s a terrorism act, unless there is confirmation from the investigating team first,” he said.

Outside of the National Assembly, Phnom Penh police chief Choun Sovann said CMAC was investigating the origin of the explosives.

“After CMAC went to explode the device successfully, with no injuries, we suggested that the director, Heng Ratana, provide expert officials to cooperate with police to make a report of what the powder was made from. Right now, CMAC took some pieces of evidence to examine. Now, the situation is safe,” he said.

At the National Assembly, the device – which was placed in a 10-litre barrel – was deemed too sensitive to move and exploded on site, CMAC director Ratana told the Post. Near Wat Phnom, however, the bomb – which was made of three M79s tied together with wire – was eventually removed to be detonated elsewhere.

Speaking to reporters at Wat Phnom, Daun Penh district governor Sok Sambath said the demonstrations would be permitted to go on, but urged protesters to keep safe and remain alert.

“We cannot say whether it was a threat to the demonstration or not. We are investigating and the local authorities are ready to provide security that day to all police, party members, NGOs and residents who attend the demonstration legally,” he said, before reiterating that the government had agreed to permit only a single day of protest.

“We could not allow them to stay three days or to sleep here at night, because no one can be responsible for securing their safety.”

Outside of both the National Assembly and Wat Phnom, dozens of police and military police quickly sealed off the scenes as Cambodian Mine Action Centre deminers inspected the bombs.

The National Assembly improvised bomb was uncovered approximately 15 metres away from the main gates, in a small patch of grass abutting a book store. At Wat Phnom, the device had been planted in flowers behind a statue of Mahatma Ghandi.

Yesterday, a defunct hand grenade was found just outside the pagoda in which Cambodia National Rescue Party leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha were giving speeches urging residents to join the planned three-day protest in Phnom Penh, which start Sunday.

Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said it was too early to draw any conclusions, and urged a thorough investigation.

“It’s very sensitive. We don’t want to make any accusations, but we’re just worried, we’re concerned that the government should be responsible even if something happens to the opposition leader,” he said. “I doubt [that it will impact plans to protest.] The people have very strongly committed to fight for the justice. They’re not really afraid by the look of it. “

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said it was “too early to comment,” as investigations remain ongoing.

"From the government side, we just keep a very close eye on that situation,” he said. “You could say that [it’s terrorism]. A terrorism act makes the people afraid, makes them worried… It’s a very cowardly act.”

He also reiterated the government’s support of planned protests.

“The demonstration is not the issue. We learn so much from the demonstration that they are able to maintain peace and maintain law and order. It does not mean that Cambodia does not want,” he said.

Outside of Wat Phnom, residents kept a wary distance as CMAC officials inspected the bomb.

“In the morning, the authority announced by microphone that everyone living here and all passing by, please take care and stay away from the area, because the authorities have found an explosive,” resident Thun Samoeun said. “My family started to panic, and we decided to shut down our shop for the moment. After the authorities announced they had successfully removed it, we were so relieved.”

Updated with video of bomb being detonated

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