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On Attack Anniversary, a Repeated Plea

Families of victims in a gruesome 1997 grenade attack renewed calls for the government and the FBI to reopen a stalled investigation Tuesday, as they marked the 13th anniversary of the assault.

Thirteen years ago Tuesday, assailants threw four grenades in the midst of a political rally for the opposition, killing 16 people and leaving 150 more wounded. Each year, the families make a new plea, but no suspects have ever been arrested in the case, which was investigated briefly by the FBI when a US citizen was injured.

Addressing supporters by loudspeaker and a phone link from France Tuesday, opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who led the 1997 rally, said the dead and wounded must not be forgotten.

“Cambodian leaders were involved in the grenade attack,” he said. “It was not so long ago. The killers and the man behind the killers will be punished or condemned for the killing. The criminals cannot escape justice.”

US Embassy spokesman John Johnson said in an e-mail the FBI investigation was deemed “inconclusive, and the US Prosecutor’s Office declined to pursue the case.”

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Tuesday the case was not closed.

The attack occurred in front of the former National Assembly, near today’s Ministry of Justice, where a stupa honoring the dead now stands.

At the site Tuesday, more than 100 participants, including victims’ families, Sam Rainsy Party activists and lawmakers, attended a Buddhist ceremony for the dead.

“We call on the Cambodian government and the FBI to reinvestigate the criminal case, to find and arrest the killers and the man behind the killers, for justice,” Sam Vanny, a representative of the victims’ families, said during the ceremony.

“We have been waiting for justice for 13 years,” she said. “We have not taken vengeance, and we have no intention to take vengeance, but it is a duty of law, of democracy and of social justice. So the government should be responsible for bringing the killers to justice.”

Svay Sakhon, who lost his daughter, Chanty Pheakdey, in the attack, said he would continue to wait for the killers to be caught.

“I have waited for the government to help find the killer,” he said. “I’m sorry that I’m not able to speak out. But I still want the government to work hard for justice.”

Human Rights Watch called on the FBI to renew its own investigation of the attack.

“The United States claims that human rights and the rule of law are primary policy goals in Cambodia, yet it withdrew the FBI just when it was close to solving the case and has done nothing for over a decade to resolve it,” Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director, said in a statement. “This attack has cast a shadow over Cambodia that will only be lifted when the perpetrators are brought to justice.”