Peter Sainsbury and Chea Sotheacheath
THREE men riding a high-powered black motorbike rolled a grenade under a car parked
outside the pagoda patronized by National Assembly president and CPP chairman Chea
Sim on March 26.
The explosion killed Nob Phanit, 30, a school teacher, and severely wounded Nhem
Valy, an adviser to Chea Sim.
Although Chea Sim was not present at Wat Po Ampil in Takeo at the time, sources close
to the party - and, initially, local police - said it was obviously a politically
Many people were shocked that apparently even Chea Sim - a venerated and influential
figure within the CPP - is not considered invulnerable in the Kingdom's rising political
It also reopened, in a very public way, questions about the cohesiveness of the CPP.
One senior government source said he believed that the attack was in direct response
to Chea Sim's proactive backing of the Japanese peace plan.
He said Chea Sim remonstrated with Hun Sen at the party's congress in February and
convinced him to honor the proposal by the Japanese to clear the way for Prince Ranariddh's
pardon and return from exile.
Hun Sen had till then been balking at acting on the plan, resulting in delays that
were causing increasing restlessness against the CPP by Cambodia's international
The discussion between the two is well-known within party ranks. Chea Sim was said
to have told Hun Sen that "the party doesn't know what you're doing any more",
a source said.
One scenario mentioned that Hun Sen's rapid acceptance of Chea Sim's concerns had
upset "anarchic" elements within the CPP who decided to "send a message"
to the party president.
"Believe in this, the fact that Chea Sim got concessions from Hun Sen, try to
imagine what some of the hardliners thought about this.
"They felt humiliated. They had invested a lot, everything, to get Ranariddh
"They're very suspicious of Chea Sim and [his son-in-law and Interior Minister]
Sar Kheng," the source said.
"Hun Sen has found [in these extremists] a baby tiger, but you can't control
a tiger any more, or especially try to teach it things its done wrong.
"Two or three times these guys have done things that have gone against what
Hun Sen wished. They are so responsive to provocation, push the trigger first and
But other sources knowledgeable of party politics pointed out that it is in certain
people's interest to portray Hun Sen as having lost control of "elements"
within the party.
People have also been muttering about the possibility that Funcinpec - and especially
resistance chief General Nhek Bun Chhay - had equally good reason to "destabilize"
the political situation by such terrorism.
The attack took place during celebrations to mark the restart of a building program
that Chea Sim had agreed to support and to provide funding.
Witnesses said that Valy had gone across to the victim's car to greet Phanit. She
got out of the car at the same time as the grenade was thrown.
Three suspects were seen riding off at high speed on a powerful motorbike.
There were 10 provincial police officers at the pagoda, in addition to 13 local militia
and four military police. They all hit the ground when they heard the grenade and
by the time they got up and started searching, the attackers had made off.
Phanit's husband, Meach Man Sophal, a police officer, said that when he heard the
explosion he just thought it was fireworks until he heard people screaming.
He said he got out of the car and found his wife had been killed.
Takeo provincial police chief Leng Hor said that he was working on the assumption
it was an act of political terrorism.
He said there had not been any such attacks in the area in recent years and local
officials had information that the offenders had come down from Phnom Penh.
However Chea Sim's advisers and supporters are trying to play down the attack, saying
it was linked to a personal dispute between Phanit and another woman.
Um Sarith, an adviser to Chea Sim, said on April 2"that the grenade attack was
not related to politics at all but was caused by a jealous wife".
He said that was also the finding of the local military police.
It is very bad in Cambodia now, even at a Ramvong traditional dancing place someone
can shoot a gun or throw a grenade... just because someone stepped on their toes,
and they will blame a political dispute."
Another adviser suggested that maybe the husband threw the grenade.
However witnesses at the pagoda said this was impossible because Phanit's husband
was in his car at the time.
Min Kin, the Member of Parliament who initially supported the pagoda before enlisting
Chea Sim's support, was adamant Valy's injuries were the result of an "accident".
Meanwhile, Valy said from his hospital bed in Takeo that he did not want to discuss
the attack saying it was "not his story".
Other government sources said that the attack was an indication of the increasing
tensions as the elections approach.
"Nobody can lose this year, they cannot afford to. There is no way else but
win, win, win," one said.
"That is why it's going to be a very dangerous time, there is no way out for
any of them at the top level."
"Remember, who has the means to be violent never hesitates to use them, you
can't afford to lose the advantage."