A homemade bomb was found near Cambodia's parliament on Friday while three grenades were discovered near the venue of a weekend opposition protest rally, according to officials who believe the explosives were planted to instill fear and spark chaos as the country grapples with a post-election political crisis.
Officials from the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) defused the bomb hours after it was found, causing a huge blast, rattling nearby buildings and nerves in Phnom Penh, eyewitnesses said.
Police said that bystanders reported the discovery of the explosives Friday morning near the building of the National Assembly, the country's parliament, and Freedom Park, where the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) planned to hold a protest rally on Sunday to back demands for an independent probe on suspected fraud in July 28 elections.
Sok Sambath, the governor of Daun Penh, a key district in the capital, said the three M79 grenades found close to Freedom Park were hidden in a black plastic bag.
He said that those who placed the explosives had wanted to stoke post-election violence.
“Someone wants to provoke chaos. We are allowing experts to work on the case,” he told RFA's Khmer Service after examining the explosives.
CNRP Phnom Penh lawmaker Ho Vann said the grenades were aimed at keeping away potential protesters from Sunday's rally, part of continuing protests to highlight malpractices that had marred the hotly-disputed elections.
“This is a kind of an intimidation against demonstrators," Ho Vann said. "I think more people will participate even though we are facing this kind of threat.”
On Thursday, authorities in Siem Reap, a tourism hub, found a grenade placed near a protest rally held by CNRP President Sam Rainsy and his deputy, Kem Sokha.
Human rights group Licadho provincial coordinator Nou Puthi said according to initial investigations, the grenade was left near the CNRP’s rally to intimidate party supporters even after the authorities had screened the area prior to the event.
But Siem Reap deputy police chief Nhiek Keo said the buried rusty grenade was a war relic.
Government denies any involvement
National police spokesman Kirt Chantharith said it was too soon to know where the explosives discovered in Phnom Penh on Friday came from, but denied involvement by Hun Sen's government.
"By planting explosive devices, the perpetrator had the intention of making instability and chaos in society," he told the Associated Press. "To participate in protesting is the legal right of the people, and government forces have the duty to provide security for them, so there is no reason for the government to do this to harm itself."
The proposed CNRP protest rally on Sunday has to be confined to 10,000 people and can be held from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., the Interior Ministry told the CNRP Thursday as it gave conditional approval to the party to hold the event. Last week's CNRP rally swelled to about 30,000 strong.
Sam Rainsy has vowed to continue staging protests until the party's demand for an independent probe on vote fraud and other election irregularities is accepted by the authorities.
The Constitutional Council, Cambodia's highest court, has dismissed all opposition complaints of ballot irregularities.
The government-appointed National Election Committee (NEC), which supervised the polls, announced final results earlier this week that showed Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP) winning by securing 68 seats in the National Assembly compared with CNRP’s 55.
The CNRP says it has been robbed of victory, claiming it had won at least 63 seats. It has filed a lawsuit against the NEC, accusing it of vote fraud, and is pushing for an independent investigation of widespread irregularities in the polls.
The opposition party has also threatened to boycott parliament, which Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni wants convened on Sept. 23.
In a bid to break the political deadlock, the King has invited Hun Sen and CNRP leader Sam Rainsy for talks at the Royal Palace on Saturday.
Both Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy have said they will attend the Saturday meeting.
Reported by Den Ayuthya for RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.