Nearly two decades after a deadly grenade attack killed at least 16 and wounded more than 150 people during a pro-democracy rally at Phnom Penh’s Wat Botum Park, victims of the attack and their families are still waiting for justice.
The notorious March 30, 1997 attack came after opposition leader Sam Rainsy and his supporters gathered in a park across from the National Assembly in Phnom Penh to denounce the judiciary’s lack of independence and judicial corruption.
While Sam Rainsy is thought to have been the target of the attack, the assailants missed him, killing his bodyguard, as well as some protesters and bystanders. The blasts blew the limbs off nearby street vendors.
According to eye-witness accounts, the people who threw the grenades ran toward Prime Minister Hun Sen’s riot-gear clad bodyguards, who allowed them to escape.
An FBI report declassified in 2009 indicated that Cambodian police possessed prior knowledge of the attack and that there was the possibility that the attackers colluded with Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit.
Despite the toll of death and dismemberment, no one has been arrested for the attack, leaving victims and family members still searching for justice.
But that hasn’t stopped pro-democracy advocates from remembering the attack. On Wednesday, about 100 people marked the anniversary at the spot of the attack.
Pov Heng, who lost a daughter and a niece in the attacks, implored the government to take action.
“Please find justice for my children,” she told RFA’s Khmer Service. “I am old, and I want to know what stage this case has reached.”
While people like Pov Heng want some closure, they hold out little hope that the government will actually take any action.
Yim Sovann, spokesman for Sam Rainsy’s Cambodian National Rescue Party, blamed the inaction on Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
“Normally in such a serious crime that left many people dead like this, the government especially, the ministry of interior, ministry of justice, and courts have to find justice,” he said. “But the Cambodian People’s Party is still in power, so we don’t know the reason for this delay.”
Attempts to contact government officials were unsuccessful.
Chak Sopheap, Executive Director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, told RFA that the government has no desire to find out what really happened.
“I think that there could be justice if all the relevant institutions perform their roles according to their authorized power,” she told RFA.
Reported by Tha Thai for RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Pagnawath Khun. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.