An attempt on the life of opposition figure Sam Rainsy 20 years ago killed 16 and wounded hundreds more
Thursday marks 20 years since a vicious grenade attack carried out on a Cambodian opposition party protest left 16 people dead and hundreds more wounded. Two decades on, no arrests have been made for the attack and a stalled FBI investigation has left many questions unanswered.
On 30 March 1997, a rally organised by the opposition Khmer Nation Party, led by former Cambodia National Rescue Party president and established opposition figure Sam Rainsy, had gathered in a Phnom Penh park to protest corruption and a lack of independence in the country’s judiciary.
Assailants threw four grenades into the crowd in an attempt to kill Rainsy. Rainsy escaped with a minor leg injury, but 16 people were killed and hundreds more were wounded.
No arrests were ever made for the attack, which has largely been blamed on supporters of the then co-prime minister Hun Sen, who went on to seize power through a violent coup several months later.
In a statement today, Human Rights Watch decried the lack of a thorough investigation into the attack and pointed towards evidence that Hun Sen was involved in the attack, noting that the army’s Brigade 70, the personal bodyguard unit of Hun Sen, was at the park in full riot gear at the time of the attack.
“Compelling evidence of the involvement of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s personal bodyguard unit in this atrocity means a serious domestic investigation never has – and never will – take place,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The United Nations and Cambodia’s donors, who provide a large percentage of the national budget, should demand justice for victims for a crime that helped derail Cambodia’s democratic transition.”
The FBI opened an investigation – which has since been derailed – because a US citizen was severely injured during the attack.
According to Human Rights Watch, police had maintained “an unusually low profile that day”, and numerous witnesses reported that the assailants had run toward Hun Sen’s bodyguards following the attack.