It has been nearly 13 years since Ly Neary’s son died without a final word and the person responsible for tearing her family apart remains unknown, but she remains hopeful that one day the person responsible for the grenade attack on the demonstration her son took part in will be prosecuted.
The grenade attack on a peaceful demonstration led by the opposition leader Sam Rainsy on March 30, 1997 in front of the then National Assembly and near the Royal Palace injured more than 100 and killed 16 people, including Ly Neary’s son, Chet Duong Daravuth, a former reporter for Neak Prayuth (the Fighter) newspaper.
No one had foreseen that a peaceful demonstration to demand an independent judicial system would turn out to be such a devastating and bloody event long after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime. This tragedy remains deeply resonant for victims and situation monitors.
“It was just like a sea of blood; there was so much blood on the ground because those injured suffered intense bleeding,” recalled Samrith Duonghak, a former reporter who was at the scene and suffered injuries from shrapnel to both his legs.
“Besides this, [I] also witnessed the scene at the hospital—there were [wounding] reporters like /Moan Khmau (Black Chicken), but now he’s dead; he suffered injuries on his arm and was screaming and there were crowds of people running in and out of the emergency room. It took me at least 30 to 40 minutes to get my wound disinfected. It was such a real [vivid] and terrifying event, [making me] greatly tremble,” he said.
Brad Adams, Asia’s director for Human Rights Watch and who arrived at the scene five minutes after the attack, recalled the scene for VOA:
“What I saw was dead bodies on the ground. I saw a woman blown in half, her legs cut off. I saw a journalist who I knew lying dead and I saw the police and the army standing by and doing nothing, actually refusing to help the victims. It was the most sickening things I’ve ever seen in my life.”
No perpetrators behind the attacks have been brought to light by the authorities despite involvement from the US investigating team from the FBI.
Every year, the victims and their families gather at a golden stupa—built just meters from the actual site of the grenade explosion and scene of scattered bodies—to commemorate the struggle and good deeds of those who had lost their lives.
“It’s close to the 30th, close to the 13th anniversary of my son’s death, which I always think about, and whichever makes my heart beat faster,” said Ly Neary. “I keep imagining: oh, my son, were my son still alive, he would comfort and take care of me now that I am old. [His] Father and mother are old now, but because of [his young] death, I feel so sorrowful. I can never forget this.”
For Sam Sun Doeun, a former parliamentarian from the Sam Rainsy Party, who lost two children under his care in the grenade attack, also never forgets to attend the commemoration ceremony even though he has now left the party.
“I am still terrified. I always attend the ceremony on March 30th, when it is held in front of the National Assembly,” he said. “I always attend to commemorate their souls; they were just doing something for the nation—and there’s nothing wrong with that—but instead they suffered terribly and something that would be easy to find is strangely not found. This is what further reinforces impunity in our Cambodian society. So to establish the rule of law in our country, we need to find [those responsible].”
The FBI has recently released some parts of their investigation report, which only hinted to suspicion that forces loyal to the Cambodian People’s Party of Prime Minister Hun Sen may have been involved in the attacks. It notes that the evidence gathered is inadequate and do not meet US standard for persecution by the time the investigating agent left Cambodia for security reasons.
Because of the release of the FBI report, Ly Neary has called for the non-repetition of a similar 1997-style attack.
“I would like to appeal to the Royal Government to stop such killings, grenade attacks, and assassinations because we all love our lives. Whether a rich person or a beggar, we all have just one live and all love our live because our live cannot be traded on the market. So please stop all this [problems],” she said.
Cambodian authorities have maintained that the case remains open.