The Cambodian government said Thursday that it has not closed the file on a deadly 1997 grenade attack in which one rights group accused Prime Minister Hun Sen’s administration of involvement.
Ahead of the 15th anniversary of the March 30 attack, the New York-based Human Rights Watch accused the Cambodian government of making “no effort” to bring to justice those responsible for the raid, which killed 16 and injured more than 150, including opposition leader Sam Rainsy.
It said there was “substantial evidence of government involvement” in the attack, which occurred in the capital Phnom Penh, and accused the government of failing to undertake a “serious” state investigation.
In an immediate reaction, the Hun Sen administration accused Human Rights Watch of wanting to “sabotage” the government.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan denied that authorities had not properly investigated the case.
“The truth is, the court has continued to investigate the case. The court has not closed the case yet,” he said.
He called on Human Rights Watch to bring forward any evidence to Cambodian authorities, saying they “welcome witnesses.”
“If someone can provide the authorities with new evidence, the investigation will continue,” he said.
No arrests have been made so far following the attack which Human Rights Watch said was “well-planned” to kill opposition Sam Rainsy, who was leading a 200-strong demonstration by the Khmer Nation Party - later renamed the Sam Rainsy Party - against judicial corruption.
Rainsy, who has continued to be active in Cambodian politics, has accused Hun Sen of masterminding the attack. He has filed a suit in France, where he is a citizen, to conduct an investigation.
One of Rainsy’s bodyguards died in the attack, which occurred during Hun Sen’s term as co-prime minister before he became full prime minister a year later as part of the ruling Cambodian People's Party.
“The authorities have never offered a credible explanation for the deployment or actions of Hun Sen’s bodyguards at the demonstration,” Human Rights Watch said.
“Hun Sen, instead of opening a serious investigation, immediately called for the arrest of the demonstration’s organizers and instructed police not to allow them to leave the country,” it charged.
Phay Siphan denied any suggestions that Hun Sen was involved in the attack, saying such implications were aimed at defaming the prime minister.
“This is a false allegation. It is the imagination of those who like making accusations,” he said.
He explained that the investigation has taken time because the authorities do not have enough resources for the investigation.
“We have been having problems with human resources and technology,” he said.
He said unresolved crime not only happened in Cambodia but worldwide. “This is not an issue only in Cambodia; other countries have taken 20 to 30 years to complete investigations.”
Human Rights Watch urged American and French authorities to continue their independent investigations into the attack. France announced it was re-opening its investigation in January of this year.
Reported and translated by Samean Yun for RFA’s Khmer service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.