NEARLY seven weeks after a grenade attack killed at least a dozen people in downtown
Phnom Penh, the police are moving to question military bodyguards of Hun Sen who
were nearby at the time.
A Ministry of Interior investigation team has written to the Ministry of Defense
asking for permission to interview 15 soldiers as witnesses, according to National
Police deputy director Yeng Marady (Funcinpec).
"Our investigation has reached the stage where these soldiers [need to be interviewed].
I hope the Ministry of Defense will cooperate and agree to send these soldiers to
us," Marady said May 12.
He claimed that the joint Funcinpec-CPP investigation team was focusing on two suspects
who fled the scene and on why they were not stopped by the soldiers.
Co-Minister of Defense Tea Banh (CPP) said May 13 that he had not seen Interior's
request but did not object to the soldiers being questioned. "It is no problem
at all," he said.
Four grenades were thrown into a Khmer Nation Party (KNP) rally at a park opposite
the National Assembly Mar 30. Twelve people who died have been publicly identified,
but the total death toll is believed to be higher.
Eye-witnesses have claimed that at least two grenade throwers, in civilian clothes,
fled on foot past the heavily-armed soldiers in the park. The soldiers allegedly
stopped other people from chasing the suspects, who ran toward Wat Botum. Behind
the pagoda is a CPP residential and military compound.
Second Prime Minister Hun Sen this week confirmed the soldiers were loyal to him,
and that the police would question them.
In a May 12 interview with the South China Morning Post , he said there was nothing
unusual in his bodyguards being around the park for "observation" purposes.
Asked why the bodyguards allowed the culprits to flee, Hun Sen replied: "Many
people were fleeing, so should we arrest all the people and accuse them of throwing
the grenade?" he asked. He did not explain why people chasing the suspects were
reportedly stopped by the soldiers.
Earlier, Phnom Penh vice-governor Chea Sophara (CPP) - who had recommended that the
government give permission for the KNP demonstration to take place - denied that
the soldiers were present at the time the grenades were thrown.
"Those troops were sent to the park shortly after the explosions to control
the scene. The group were sent after the grenade attack," Sophara said in a
May 6 interview.
Asked about photographs of the soldiers taken while KNP supporters were marching
to the National Assembly before the attack, he replied: "You have to understand
this. If they wanted to do it that way, they would never use soldiers in uniform.
They would be in disguise, or maybe they would pretend to be like the demonstrators,
in civilian clothes."
The Secretary of State for Interior, Ho Sok (Funcinpec), said Hun Sen's soldiers
were clearly in the park before the attack and their job was to "protect his
men from being caught".
"The attackers escaped to the Wat Botum compound, which is the Second Prime
Minister's compound and the soldiers prevented people from [chasing] them."
Sok said he believed no arrests would be made for the massacre, but that "everyone
throughout the country knows who did it".
He would not directly name the person he believed responsible. But when asked who
he believed was protecting the grenade throwers, Sok referred to a comment made by
Hun Sen over a Sihanoukville marijuana seizure: "It is obvious. Just remember
the marijuana case. He said on television and radio that 'If Ho Sok wants to arrest
Mong Reththy, he better wear a steel helmet'."
A Ministry of Interior committee headed by National Police director Hok Lundy (CPP)
is officially in charge of the Mar 30 massacre inquiry. Also investigating are three
United States Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, who are involved because an
American, Ron Abney, was injured in the grenade blasts and because the Ministers
of Interior sought their assistance.
Hok Lundy was not available for comment but Yeng Marady, his Funcinpec deputy, said
that at least nine witnesses had been interviewed by ministry officers and the FBI
Some other witnesses, however, have so far been too frightened to come forward. One
is Srun Vong Vanna, a bodyguard to KNP leader Sam Rainsy, who has claimed that he
and other demonstrators who pursued two grenade throwers were stopped at gunpoint
by the soldiers.
The account Vanna gave to journalists and human rights workers shortly after the
attack was corroborated by other witnesses.
Last week, Hok Lundy - who is widely believed to be a Hun Sen ally - signed a letter
to Vanna asking him to testify before the investigation team. At press time, Vanna
"He is afraid that he will be arrested and put in jail, without any justice,
like his brother," said KNP vice-president Kong Koam.
Vanna is the brother of Srun Vong Vannak, the KNP security chief being held in prison
- illegally, according to some human rights workers - for alleged involvement in
the killing of Hun Sen's brother-in-law last November.
Koam said Vanna would only testify to the ministry if he had a written guarantee
of his safety from the co-Ministers of Interior. One of the Ministers, Sar Kheng
(CPP), told the Post last month the ministry would protect all witnesses, but at
press time, no such guarantee had been given to Vanna.
Meanwhile, Sam Rainsy - who has publicly accused Hun Sen of orchestrating the grenade
attack - was due to meet with the FBI agents this week following his return from
abroad, KNP officials said.
CPP officials including Sar Kheng have complained about Rainsy's departure from Cambodia
six days after the massacre, saying that he should have stayed to help the inquiry.
CPP has also implicitly claimed that KNP members may have staged the attack.
Chea Sophara, known to be close to Hun Sen, blamed a "third group" of people
for throwing the grenades, taking advantage of the government's granting of permission
for the demonstration to be held.
"I wonder, I always ask myself, why when Sam Rainsy holds a demonstration illegally,
there hasn't been any grenade attack. But when we allow him to hold a demonstration
legally, there is a grenade attack."
Sophara asked who had benefited from the violence. "Any political party that
has talked a lot about the grenade attack, that party gets the benefit. Another political
party keeps quiet; they get no benefit. I will ask the Ministry of Interior to ask
Sam Rainsy to explain about this."
He said he also wondered "why the grenades exploded after Sam Rainsy [had given
a speech] and walked away" - why "the big guys" in KNP were not hurt".
Hun Sen, in his May 12 interview, expressed a similar sentiment, asking how the "grenades
had the eye to miss the leader of the demonstration". Hun Sen dismissed Rainsy's
allegations against him as groundless, but said he would not respond because "when
a dog bites my leg, I do not use my teeth to bite the leg of the dog".
Sophara said he would put up a $1,000 reward for information about each of the grenade
throwers, and stated that he believed arrests would be made "maybe soon".
According to witnesses, at least one of the four grenades was thrown from a motorcycle
passing by the National Assembly. The others were apparently thrown by two or three
people on foot in the park.
Police have said they recovered grenade parts at the scene. They identified the grenades
as 24-year-old United States-made ones, presumably left over from the US-backed Lon