​Slaughter on Sunday - March 30, 1997 | Phnom Penh Post

Slaughter on Sunday - March 30, 1997


Publication date
04 April 1997 | 07:00 ICT

Reporter : Christine Chaumeau and Jason Barber

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AT least 15 people were killed and scores wounded when four grenades were lobbed

into a Khmer Nation Party demonstration Mar 30, the worst act of terrorism in Phnom

Penh since the 1993 elections.

The attack - in the park opposite the National Assembly - occurred while a unit of

heavily-armed troops in full-combat uniforms stood nearby. The soldiers made no attempt

to catch the attackers and prevented others from doing so, according to eyewitness


KNP leader Sam Rainsy, who escaped injury, immediately blamed Hun Sen for orchestrating

the attack, and alleged the soldiers were part of the Second Prime Minister's bodyguard


A spokesman for Hun Sen later abruptly refused to discuss the soldiers, saying he

did not know who they were and did not understand why anyone would ask.

Independent military observers said they had no direct evidence of who the troops

were, but confirmed that they wore military kit similar to that of Hun Sen's bodyguards.

A high-ranking CPP source said the Khmer Rouge were suspected of being behind the

attack. A joint police team has been established to investigate, but human rights

workers and some government officials themselves privately predicted that no arrests

would be made.

The explosions ripped through a crowd of some 170 demonstrators led by Rainsy in

a lawful protest outside the National Assembly at about 8:30am.

Eyewitnesses say that two grenades were thrown from behind the protesters in the

park by two men who escaped on foot. At least one was dropped from a motorcycle which

sped by the National Assembly, while the origin of the fourth grenade is unclear.

The death toll was uncertain at Post press time but, according to the human rights

group Licadho, stood at at least 15. Ten victims have been identified by Licadho,

and an 11th by KNP. A further four or five people are believed to have been killed,

but their bodies are either unaccounted for or unidentified, Licadho said.

Two 13-year-old children were among the dead, according to the human rights group.

Others included a 17-year-old student, a Rainsy bodyguard, a journalist and several

women garment factory workers.

The injured are believed to number about 130 - as high as 80 percent of the crowd.

All of the dead and injured were Cambodian, except for American Ron Abney, country

director of the International Republican Institute, who suffered moderate injuries,

and Chinese journalist Zhu Changdu, who suffered serious abdominal wounds.

Experienced human rights workers said two aspects of the demonstration and the attack

stood out.

The first was the unusually light police presence at the rally, whose organizers

had received permission from the Phnom Penh Municipality and the Ministry of Interior

to hold the protest.

A total of about 20 policemen - considerably less than for previous Rainsy protests

- were present in three positions some distance from the demonstration at the time

of the explosion, eyewitnesses say.

Human rights workers speculated, while confirming they had no direct evidence to

prove it, that the police had been expecting an attack.

The second, particularly unusual aspect was the presence of the soldiers in the park

some 150-200m from the demonstration. The soldiers appeared to be a special unit:

clad in full-combat uniform, with helmets, spare magazines, and modern automatic


A bodyguard of Rainsy alleged that the soldiers had prevented him and others from

chasing two of the grenade-slinging terrorists.

The bodyguard asked not to be named but is a relative of Srun Von Vannak, in jail

for alleged involvement in the murder of Hun Sen's brother-in-law, Kov Samuth. Human

rights workers said the bodyguard's testimony was corroborated by at least three

other witnesses.

The bodyguard said he saw one man throw a grenade and then run off with a second

man. He said that he and a crowd of people pursued the two men. The soldiers made

no effort to stop or pursue the two men, but trained their guns on the crowd and

stopped them from continuing the chase.

The two men, according to several eyewitnesses, were last seen crossing Street 7

in front of Wat Botum on the west side of the park.

Behind the wat is a CPP residential compound. An armored personnel carrier was later

stationed at one entrance to the compound, near the wat, while soldiers - dressed

identically to those earlier seen in the park - took up positions in surrounding


Om Yentieng, an advisor to Hun Sen, responded indignantly when asked April 1 about

the soldiers originally in the park: "I do not understand why you ask me that

question. Who told you that? I am not military and I cannot understand such a question

... I never saw any Hun Sen men."

"Hun Sen is behind this," Rainsy declared to journalists at his house soon

after the attack. "He is a bloody man. He will be arrested and sentenced one


Noting that the KNP demonstration had been to protest the justice system in Cambodia,

Rainsy claimed: "We denounce their judiciary, their weak point, so they reacted

by using even stronger means."

Hun Sen, in a speech a few hours later, described the violence as a "tremendous

tragedy" comparable to the throwing of grenades in Takhmau in 1983 and Phnom

Penh in 1990.

Hun Sen, speaking to villagers at his Takhmau home known as "Banteay Sowatepheap"

(Safe Barracks), expressed condolences for the dead and injured and "vehemently

condemned" the perpetrators.

He then went on to blame Rainsy and the KNP for what had happened.

He said he had asked the Ministry of Interior to consider whether they should "drag

the demonstration's mastermind by the neck to court", a clear reference to Rainsy.

He compared the demonstration organizers to the captain of a boat which sank and

its passengers were drowned, he said: "I think this bunch must be handcuffed

according to the law, as [they are] responsible for the deaths because they are the

ones who caused it."

A senior CPP official, requesting anonymity, blamed the Khmer Rouge for staging the

grenade attack to make the CPP look guilty.

The official singled out a Khmer-French man, who is known to have family connections

with the Anlong Veng Khmer Rouge, as a possible suspect. The man, who lives in France,

had been in Cambodia several days before the attack.

The official said he did not know who the soldiers in the park at the time of the

attack were, but suggested that they were impostors dressed in a manner which would

cast suspicion on CPP.

Rainsy scoffed at the suggestion that the Khmer-French man was involved in the bombings,

saying that the man had stayed with him at his house for two nights. The man was

present at the demonstration.

In the evening of the attack, rumors of CPP troops being sent to arrest Rainsy saw

the KNP leader flee to the home of First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

Ranariddh dispatched a letter to Hun Sen asking the Second Prime Minister not to

"make any decisions" until a police team had investigated the grenade attack.

Hun Sen signed the agreement.

At Post press time, a Ministry of Interior team - headed by National Police chief

Hok Lundy (CPP) and his deputy Yeng Marady (Funcinpec) - had been established. Funcinpec

police are understood to have sent a report to Ranariddh earlier.

Soon after the attack, both Ranariddh and his father, King Norodom Sihanouk, issued

strong statements condemning the violence. Ranariddh later visited some of the victims

in hospital.

In an April 1 interview with Reuters, Ranariddh labeled the grenade attack a "tragedy

for democracy" and said he feared more violence in the election run-up.

"I fear it is not an isolated incident. I think that it is a real act of political

crime, an act of intimidation toward the next elections," he said.

On his relationship with his co-Prime Minister, Ranariddh said: "It is more

and more difficult for me to work with [Hun Sen]. The tension is not created by me."

Rainsy, in a press conference the same day, demanded justice and reiterated his allegations

against Hun Sen.

"Enough is enough - we need to know the truth and the culprits must be identified

and punished.

"It was a mass killing of innocent people indiscriminately - this is a genocide.

I think the time has come to set up a genocide tribunal like in Rwanda to stop the

killing hands of CPP, of Hun Sen."

- Additional reporting by Chea Sotheacheath and Ker Munthit

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