The commander of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s body guards is considering legal action against a Khmer-language newspaper which published allegations that he was involved in the planning of the 1997 grenade attack in central Phnom Penh which killed at least 16 people and wounded more than 100 others at an opposition rally, sources revealed Wednesday.
A Ministry of Defense letter published in local broadcast media and obtained Wednesday by VOA refuted allegations made recently in Moneakseka Khmer newspaper that the bodyguard commander, Lt. Gen. Hing Bun Heang, hired men to carry out the deadly attack, the worst single instance of political violence in Cambodia since the 1970s. The letter accused the opposition newspaper of ‘’smearing’’ the reputation of the military.
A Defense Ministry spokesman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told VOA that Hing Bun Heang’s ‘’duty’’ was to protect the premier and that the bodyguard chief was planning to ‘’send’’ the letter to the military court and to the Phnom Penh civilian court to determine if additional action could be taken against the Moneakseka Khmer.
The outspoken opposition newspaper published an article about a man who claimed to be among the perpetrators of the grenade attack and asserted that he was hired by Hing Bun Heang to toss bombs into the March 30, 1997 demonstration outside the National Assembly.
The article was based on DVD recently distributed discreetly by human rights activists of an interview conducted shortly after the grenade attack by leading opposition party members Tioulong Saumara and Eng Chhay Eang, with two self-admitted perpetrators, Chhay Vy and another man, Chum Bun Thoeun. The two men, particularly the one called Chhay Vy, described how they were recruited to carry out the violence with at least two others and were paid for their dirty work.
Moneakseka published the allegations without comment from government or military officials and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith told VOA the omission proved the story was unbalanced.
Dam Sith, editor of Moneakseka Khmer, said Wednesday he is not aware of any lawsuit against his paper and said the Defense Ministry’s letter is an example of the state using the Ministry of Defense as a tool to intimidate journalists. If he lands in court, Dam Sith said he has documents and evidence to defend himself, even if the court is ‘’biased.’’
The Phnom Penh court said no law suit has been filed with it and Military Court officials and Hing Bun Heang could not be reached Wednesday for comment.
A U.S. citizen, democracy advocate Ron Abney of the International Republican Institute, was among those injured in the attack and FBI agents arrived in Cambodia shortly after the violence to investigate. However, the FBI’s report on the probe has never been made public. U.S. State Department officials routinely say they cannot comment on the FBI findings, and suggest that reporters check with the FBI, which has been unresponsive to interview requests.
Chhay Vy reportedly met with FBI officials in Bangkok more than a year after the attack. Interior Ministry officials have said that Chhay Vy died due to illness.