At 6pm on September 30, the worst fears of trouble became fact. Bombs were thrown
at the Son Sann faction's HQ - and at a pagoda. Ker Munthit and Jason Barber
"I heard the click of the pin being pulled," recalls Kong Oeun, a BLDP
police guard outside Son Sann's house, on the night a grenade landed in front of
It was around 6pm last Saturday. More than 100 people were camped at the house, preparing
for Son Sann's disputed party congress the next morning, when a motorcycle carrying
two people drove past.
"I was standing outside the gate about one meter from where the grenade landed,
"I heard the click of the pin being pulled, I recognized it. The passenger threw
"It was a Russian-made grenade. I saw it and I know it. It happened very fast.
They sped up immediately.
"I shouted 'grenade!', then I took off to hide by a car parked on the other
side of the street.
"It landed, the smoke came out and it exploded in less than a minute."
Fellow police guard Chan Phan, hit three times in the legs and once in the arm by
shrapnel, said he didn't immediately run from the grenade because he wanted to "get
angry" at the people who threw it.
"When Oeun shouted, I had a glance and I thought it was a fire-cracker because
of the smoke. Then I shouted 'grenade!' and ran after him, but it was too late.
"There was a motorbike parked between the gate and the spot where the grenade
landed. Thanks to the motorbike [which took much of the blast]... otherwise it could
have been worse, some people could have died."
More than half the people at the house, on Street 338 near Olympic Stadium, were
in its courtyard facing the road.
Mom Sophat, from Svay Rieng, said he was watching the registeration of new arrivals,
when there was a "flash, a boom and smoke."
"After the explosion, people started running in confusion," said Un Chhan
"Some ran into the ground floor room and some ran upstairs. I was on the stairs,
then I ran upstairs. I was confused about what to do, and scared.
"Most of the people remained downstairs. Some of the wounded walked by themselves
upstairs... some were carried upstairs.
"The guards told the crowd not to run, so they could protect us. His Excellency
Son Sann was in the [upstairs] room. He did not come out, he was kept inside for
A human rights worker arriving at the scene found injured people littered around.
"I saw one guy that wasn't being helped. I said I'd get my truck and [the wounded]
just kept piling in". He reckons he took about ten people to Calmette Hospital.
A trail of blood ran up the house's stairway, leading to and from thicker pools;
a lump of flesh and blood in a back passageway was smeared with footprints. Two women
crouching on their haunches smeared the tiled floor clear as best they could with
rags, as journalists and others filed passed dazed looking people to the upstairs
Eighty-three-year-old Son Sann was in a corner, quietly praying.
His son, National Assembly vice-chairman Son Soubert, had blood spots on his clothes.
His arm nicked by a passing shrapnel piece, he said: "I didn't even realize
that I was hurt. I saw the people bleeding. I thought it was their blood on me."
A short distance away, at Wat Mohamantrey on Sihanouk Bld, more blood had been spilt.
A grenade was thrown over a wall of the pagoda - where out-of-town Son Sann supporters
were staying while in Phnom Penh to attend the next day's congress - landing next
to the small wooden house of nun Kim Ngneth, 67.
She was struck in the buttock by shrapnel. Other people, including at least two monks
and four lay people, were reported to have suffered lesser injuries.
"I was drawing water [from a well] when I saw something flying over the wall,"
one man said later. "I thought someone had thrown a stone and didn't move. Then
Said monk Kim Mila: "This is a terrible violence because this is the temple,
a sacred place. Hardly anyone would think this could happen here.
"This is a sacred place for people to come to pray, to clear their hearts of
sin, to teach themselves gentleness."
Back at Son Sann's house, incomprehension and anger was growing.
"You see that blood, that's Khmer blood," said Chap Sokhorn from Svay Rieng,
as he tried to find out where his wounded wife had been taken.
"I am angry," said Un Chhan. "There is no democracy, only dictatorship
Upstairs too a woman bent on her hands and knees to wipe blood from the floor; Son
Sann sat and faced a group of reporters.
Looking pale but still calm and, turning frequently to his son Son Soubert, he spoke
of decades of war and bloodshed in Cambodia.
For 15 minutes, he spoke of his party's origins - and its eventual splitting; of
foreign invaders; of the Khmer Rouge; of Buddhism; and of democracy.
"Yes, Khmer blood is being spilt again. Why? Why do they do that? We do not
want anything but to have expression and to receive people who come [to the congress].
"Tomorrow, I would like to express to my people my thanks because they are so
courageous because they have come despite all the danger. But you see now they are
wounded. They want to kill them. Why? They are Cambodians, innocent.
"I have to say it is not myself or the party only, but democracy in Cambodia
which is in danger."
U.S. Ambassador Charles Twining was contacted by telephone. "What's the scene
like there?" he asked. "My reaction is one of shock... the whole world
will be watching..."
Amazingly, no-one died in either grenade attack. Official figures put the total wounded
at 35-28 at the Sann house and seven at the wat.
There were chaotic scenes at Calmette Hospital, as doctors, foreigners and dignitaries
mingled around the injured.
Son Soubert, arriving to have his arm checked, was accompanied by bodyguards. One,
frighteningly on edge, sweat pouring off his face and finger glued to the trigger
of his M-16 rifle, jostled against the crowd. Another waved his pistol in the air.
When the power blacked out momentarily, people ducked instictively as the guards
raised their guns.
Of 19 injured sent to Calmette, most had superficial wounds but two appeared seriously
wounded. They were put in a separate ward, where one began hyperventialiating.
Several foreign medical staff who arrived at the hospital offering their services,
including an Australian doctor and nurse who asked for oxygen for the shocked man.
There were oxygen cylinders next to the two men's beds, but no masks. A group of
people took off in a car to try to find some, later to return after a fruitless search
of other hospitals.
Meanwhile, the two men were given basic first aid but little else, not even a cleaning.
A woman in the bed next to them was surrounded by a group of doctors, some of them
The flurry of activity led several people to think she too was a grenade victim,
but in fact turned out to be the ill mother of a prominent Cambodian businessman.
After receiving some treatment, she was wheeled out for more, while the two grenade
victims waited their turn.
"These doctors treat her but not these two men because these men don't have
money," remarked an angry Khmer bystander.
An argument ensued when the Australian doctor, attempting to help the two, was ordered
out by the hospital doctor in charge.
When a Westerner challenged the Cambodian doctor, he responded: "I work for
the Ministry of Health, I don't work for you... you have no law to impose on us".
"We're all supposed to work for humanity...maybe you should get another job,"
retorted the foreigner, before mediation led to permission for the Australian doctor
Minister of Interior You Hockry briefly visited the hospital, promising a "thorough
investigation" into the grenade attacks, while an injured man with a heavily-bandaged
head watched from a distance.
Vai Kim Hak, shrapnel wounds to his head, back, arms and legs, said: "Democracy...
these days it is non-existent. There were acts of violence in the past, violence
during UNTAC, violence again during the Royal Goverment era.
"I am very disappointed at Khmers being so stupid. Very sorry that this led
to this kind of stupidity."
Kim Seng, another grenade victim, remarked: "How cruel Khmers are. I wish not
to be born Khmer again in my next life."
Ly Thuch, chief of First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh's cabinet, arrived
at the hospital to express His Highness' sympathies.
Asked whether the Son Sann congress should be allowed to go ahead the next day, Thuch
told the Post: "How... when this kind of thing has just happened? Do you want
only 30 injured today or 100 dead tomorrow?"
Moments later, in an interview with a Japanese television crew in the corridor of
the hospital, he described the grenade attacks as "an accident".
Meanwhile, across town at the Kossomak monks' hospital were 20 other people wounded
from Son Sann's house and Wat Mohamantrey.
They lay on bare bedsprings, with blue plastic sheets on top of them. One man lay
with the sheet pulled over his head, his body shaking with shock. Blood had begun
congealing on the floor under him.
"Normally patients come with their own rolled mats, but this is an emergency
so we gave them sheets," said a nurse.
Gauze pads were put on the wounds of the injured. Doctors were concerned about only
three of the patients, those most seriously hurt, but said they could wait until
morning to have X-rays taken to see if they required surgery.
Twining was called again. Chargé d'Affairs Bob Porter said the Ambassador
was in a meeting with Son Sann and that he didn't know whether Twining would be at
the congress the following day.
"Is there going to be one?" Porter asked.
Later that night, word got back to Son Sann's house that soldiers and police were
guarding the locked gates of Olympic Stadium, where the congress had been planned
for the next day.
BLDP officials decided to go ahead with the congress - "I would like to thank
my people because they are courageous to come despite all the danger," Son Sann
had said earlier - but to hold it at the house.
Sann told the Post late that night. "Please ask the international communty to
help us. Please ask them to help restore democracy... to help end civil war in Cambodia."