Report: No Justice for Victims of Cambodia Grenade Attack, 15 Years Later

Posted March 29th, 2012 at 2:00 am (UTC-5)
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Human Rights Watch says the Cambodian government has made “no effort” to bring justice to those responsible for a deadly grenade attack on an opposition rally 15 years ago.

In a report issued Thursday, the U.S.-based group says there is “substantial evidence of government involvement” in the 1997 attack, which killed 16 people and left more than 150 injured.

The attack apparently targeted opposition leader Sam Rainsy, but instead killed protesters and bystanders, including children and street vendors.

It called for the the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation to re-open its probe into the incident, which was cut short when the U.S. ambassador ordered its lead investigator out of the country. The FBI was investigating because a U.S. citizen was injured in the attack.

On March 30, 1997, unidentified attackers tossed four grenades into a crowd of supporters of the opposition Khmer Nation Party who had gathered at a park in Phnom Penh to protest government corruption.

Several witnesses reported seeing the attackers immediately seek refuge with then co-Prime Minister Hun Sen's personal bodyguard unit, which was stationed next to the park. They say the attackers were allowed to pass into a nearby compound that housed many senior leaders of the ruling Cambodia's People's Party.

The attack took place at a time of heightened political sensitivity in Cambodia. Just weeks after the attack, Hun Sen seized power in a bloody coup, forcing opposition groups into exile and allegedly carrying out a series of extrajudicial killings.

Human Rights Watch says Cambodia's government failed to carry out a serious investigation into the attack, but instead called for the arrest of the demonstration's organizers. The report also says Cambodian authorities have failed to provide a credible explanation for why police had an unusually low profile at the rally.

It says many people in Cambodia are more focused on the highly publicized Khmer Rouge trials, at the expense of investigating the crimes allegedly committed by those currently in power.