SIHANOUKVILLE - The sudden blacking out of televisions sets, and echoes of explosions,
marked a deadly rocket attack on the local television station in this seaside town
Neighbors on a hill near the TVK station did not immediately link the sound of gunfire
and detonations with the abrupt end to an international news broadcast on their TV
sets about 7:45pm.
By next morning, however, news was rapidly spreading of the attack which shocked
the normally sleepy tourist town.
One man died - TVK employee Pich Hem - and two others had miraculous escapes when
a group of people attacked the building with AK47s and B40 rockets.
"I heard a sound like an electric short-circuit. I stood up and went to see,"
said Ming Sray a 20 year-old student who lives at the station.
"I saw a handgun outside and a B40 rocket was shot into the room. A window shattered
and I was hit in the shoulder. I hid under the table. Another rocket was fired. I
closed my eyes and kept them shut for 30 minutes until the military police arrived."
After the attack, Sray went back to his home village, afraid that the attackers might
return to get him.
"I did not see their faces, I do not know what they look like, because I kept
my eyes closed all of the time," he said.
Phan Sophal, a policeman guarding the station at the time, had a clearer recollection.
"I was in the same room with Pich Hem and I was laying on the bed as he was
sitting at the table in front of the television," he said.
"Suddenly, the bed flipped over and all of the things in the room flew around
overhead. It was the first rocket," he said.
Sophal ran, trying to hide from the attackers. Three of them walked into the building.
"Pich Hem was complaining. He was asking for help and one of the attackers shot
him several times in the stomach," Sophal said. "I lay quietly as if I
were dead. One guy shot at me, but luckily no bullets hit me."
Sophal said he believed there were seven or eight attackers, but says he could not
see their faces. "It was very dusty and there was a lot of smoke. They had kramas
on their faces, covering their mouths up to their eyes," he said, adding that
"their uniforms were dark blue."
Ten minutes after the rocket-propelled grenades exploded, it was over. The silence
was only broken by the sound of the generator. Today, the building shows the furious
violence of the attack: shelves and video tapes broken and burned, windows blown
out and walls peppered with bullet holes.
The attack immediately took on political overtones, given TVK's role in broadcasting
often viotriolic speeches by Phnom Penh politicians. CPP officials claimed that it
was an act of terrorism in revenge for the Sihanoukville station's refusal to screen
a speech by outspoken Funcinpec official Serey Kosal two weeks earlier. Funcinpec
chiefs denied any involvement.
Neighbors near the station - located on the road to the Angkor Beer factory at Klang
Leu village - told the Post they saw nothing unusual that night.
But Sihanoukville police commissioner Em Bunsath (CPP) said some witnesses reported
seeing a white pick-up truck leaving the area moments after the attack.
Bunsath said few clues had been found so far, but he believed the assailants were
"The attackers had to know the place and the routine of the TV station and the
people who were there that night," he said.
First deputy provincial governor Khim Bo (CPP) said that it was surely a case of
political terrorism, pointing the finger at Funcinpec. He said that on Apr 22 deputy
police commissioner Choem Kim Chem was ordered by Governor Thoam Bun Sron (both Funcinpec)
to deliver a taped speech of Serey Kosal, the First Prime Minister's special envoy,
to the station officials.
"He scared everyone coming with his bodyguards and armed forces," said
Kong Sarang, director of the provincial information department, of Kim Chem.
Hou Bunleng, a friend of Kim Chem who works at the department, disputed that.
"I was not scared at seeing them," said Bunleng. "They are friends
and the deputy commissioner is always coming with the same number of bodyguards."
The next morning Bunleng gave the tape - of a Phnom Penh press conference in which
Serey Kosal accused Second Prime Minister of plotting a coup - to his director, Kong
Sarang declined to have it broadcast, explaining to the Post: "The tape didn't
have anything saying where it came from and I didn't know who made it. I need permission
from the Ministry of Information when a tape does not come from TVK."
Khim Bo, the CPP deputy governor, said: "I believe that the fact that TVK did
not broadcast the tape caused the attack."
Funcinpec governor Thoam Bun Srong strongly denies that.
"Anybody can do anything. Anybody can buy police and military people to do that,"
said Bun Srong. "We are not so stupid to do this. This is a pretext that they
Alleging that CPP could have staged the attack to frame Funcinpec, he told a Khmer
tale about a traveler, who had a monkey and a goat, who took a nap and awoke to find
his rice had been eaten: "The goat had rice on its face, but actually the monkey
ate the rice and put it on the face of the goat. It could be the same here."
The governor said Funcinpec is part of the government and "we are not terrorists,"
adding: "We have the ability to start and fight a war, so we do not need to
do things like this."
Choem Kim Chem, the Funcinpec deputy police chief, said that if he had wanted to
attack TVK, he would not have waited two weeks after the Serey Kosal affair to do
"TVK always broadcasts Hun Sen's and Ung Phan's statements. So if Funcinpec
would have done this [attack], it would have destroyed everything to prevent them
from broadcasting ever again."
Kim Chem referred to an alleged group of CPP special forces in the province, who
he claimed could have been responsible. "Groups like them are terrorists and
they want to defame my name and the name of my party."
Back at the television station, employees said they were afraid to go back to work.
Said one: "You know, there is a Khmer proverb: 'In the sea you find the crocodile,
in the earth you find the wolf, in the forest you find the tiger and at the market
you find the police. So where can you go?"