Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Govt rows over bomb probe

Govt rows over bomb probe

Govt rows over bomb probe

IN the wake of the deadly March 30 grenade attack, the co-Minister of Interior Sar

Kheng (CPP) has urged a strengthening of the government's authority to ensure the

rule of law.

Kheng, whose ministry is in charge of investigating the bombing of a Khmer Nation

Party (KNP) demonstration, said the massacre was part of a trend of political tension.

As the Prime Ministers and other officials argued over the competence of the ministry's

inquiry, Kheng defended the investigation as independent. He would arrest the grenade

throwers immediately if he knew who they were, he said in an Apr 11 interview.

But he also referred to the politicization of the rule of law, saying: "To make

this government strong, [we] must not let political parties be strong. If we let

political parties be strong, application of laws certainly cannot be carried out.

"If the power of political parties is strong, no matter how strong the Minister

of Interior is, he cannot act. Because we issue orders within 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?"

Asked about the failure of police inquiries into past acts of political violence,

Kheng claimed that the cases remained open "for further investigation".

While also referring to the limited "skills and means" of police inquiries

in the past, he rejected First Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh's proposal for a

United Nations investigation into the Mar 30 bombing.

He said that if the ministry's investigation team required help on particular technical

issues, it was possible foreign experts could be requested.

The ministry had already written to the United States Embassy in Phnom Penh seeking

a specialist to draw composite pictures of the grenade throwers, he said.

Both Kheng and his Funcinpec co-Minister, You Hockry, are understood to have signed

the request, which has been forwarded to Washington.

Ranariddh, however, had earlier suggested a fuller international inquiry, saying

that he had no confidence in the Cambodian police investigation.

"A joint committee must be set up within the Ministry of Interior, but as Prime

Minister I do no trust the Ministry of Interior," Ranariddh said at a memorial

service for massacre victims Apr 5.

Referring to the UN Crimes Division based in Geneva, Ranariddh said: "I will

... relay my request to the UN to ask the latter to send this committee to Cambodia."

Diplomats said any request for the UN Crimes Division to investigate the bombing

was unlikely to be acted upon unless both Prime Ministers endorsed the proposal.

Hun Sen publicly rejected the idea, and suggested that Ranariddh should resign if

he did not trust his government's own ministry.

"The essence of power is that when you talk you are listened to and respected.

In order to be respected you have to be consistent. Some people are already outside

the government, because I am here in the government, governing the institutions,"

Hun Sen said Apr 10.

Of the grenade attack investigation, he said: "We cannot afford to have a special

commission each time there is an incident."

A letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, signed by 41 Funcinpec and Buddhist

Liberal Democratic Party MPs including Ranariddh, went further than seeking the UN

Crimes Division to investigate.

Decrying a lack of democracy and human rights in Cambodia, the Apr 2 letter firmly

pointed the finger at Hun Sen, saying: "The biggest human rights abuser is the

most powerful man in the country."

The letter urged the international community to take unspecified action to "finish

the job" which was started with the 1993 UNTAC elections.

Sar Kheng, meanwhile, maintained that the Mar 30 attack - which saw at least 16 people

killed when four grenades were thrown at a KNP demonstration outside the National

Assembly - was the "first priority" of his ministry.

He said that not enough information had yet been received, and appealed for witnesses

to come forward to the police. The ministry would guarantee their protection, and

offer rewards for information, he said.

Kheng criticized KNP president Sam Rainsy - who left Apr 5 for a three-week trip

to France and the US - for not staying in Cambodia to help the ministry's investigation.

Asked about a group of heavily-armed soldiers, believed to part of Hun Sen's bodyguard

unit near the explosion scene, Kheng said that if the Second Prime Minister wanted

to harm unarmed demonstrators, "I believe he wouldn't have to bother using such

massive [presence] of troops."

Funcinpec officials and human rights workers say the soldiers - who roughly numbered

about 15-20 according to witnesses - were members of the Second Prime Minister's

bodyguard unit, but Hun Sen has made no public comment about them.

National Police first deputy director Yeng Marady (Funcinpec) - who jointly heads

the ministry investigation team with director Hok Lundy (CPP) - said the soldiers

had no right to be near the demonstration.

"Those soldiers were deployed there illegally," he said, saying that he

was seeking clarification of why they were there.

Marady said that some progress had been made in the investigation, but did not want

to specify what information had been received.

Another top Funcinpec police official, however, said the inquiry was making little

headway. The police did not have the technical expertise to do forensic work, and

the CPP and Funcinpec team members did not trust each other, said the official, who

requested anonymity.

Meanwhile, there are other indications that the police investigation is less than

rigorous.

A Post reporter was present at the interview of one of the victims of the grenade

blast at a Phnom Penh hospital by municipal police officers last week. The officers

only asked questions about why the victim had been at the KNP demonstration - and

did not inquire whether the person had seen the grenade throwers.

Human rights workers report that there has been intimidation of injured people in

hospital by police or soldiers. Vendors and others in the park opposite the National

Assembly, where the attack took place, also claim to have been visited by police

and military telling them not to talk to journalists.

Even the total death toll remains unclear. Government officials and human rights

workers suggest the toll is 17, but only 12 victims have been publicly identified.

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