The government has hit back at deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha's inflammatory claim that the 2010 Koh Pich stampede was masterminded by the Vietnamese.
Press and Quick Reaction Unit Deputy Chairman Keo Remy said today that the government “had to react” to the remarks given the volume and inaccuracy of the accusations.
Speaking at the Council of Ministers, Remy called Sokha’s remarks thoughtless, and said that if he were ever elected as prime minister “it would be dangerous for the country”.
“Related to the Koh Pich stampede, he alleged that the government was ordered by Vietnam to kill Khmer people,” Remy said.
“He always makes Khmer people and the situation go crazy like him. The government already confirmed that the stampede was an accident with many people. No one created it. Other countries in the world also have them.”
Remy also noted that the Water Festivals following the 2010 stampede – which claimed more than 350 lives when crowds on a swaying suspension bridge panicked and attempted to flee – had been cancelled because of heavy flooding and the death of King Father Norodom Sihanouk.
“As for cancelling the Water Festival because Vietnam [allegedly] wants to eliminate Khmer culture, this is so beyond [reason],” he said, referring to another of Sokha's accusations.
Adding that it would be impossible for Cambodians to celebrate while grieving the King Father’s death, Remy took the opportunity to slip in a personal jab at Sokha, saying “maybe if Kem Sokha had a father or grandfather die, he could still be happy at Water Festival”.
Thun Saray, president of the rights group Adhoc, said today that while the Koh Pich stampede was indeed an accident, the government’s handling of it was far from perfect.
“I think the Koh Pich stampede, we can say it was not organised, it was an accident. But the problem is accountability,” he said. “To organise this kind of event, authorities have to prepare a lot of details to prevent this kind of thing from happening. There were also a lot of problems with rescuing victims.”
“We need to have a serious investigation,” he added. “The investigation done by the government was not a serious one, because no one was found [to be responsible].”
A spokesman for Sokha’s Cambodia National Rescue Party could not be reached for a response today.
But Sokha has simultaneously defended and distanced himself from his remarks, maintaining that Vietnam “wants to eliminate the [Khmer] race,” while noting that the accusations weren’t presented as the definitive truth.