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No Punishment for Diamond Bridge 'Accident': Hun Sen

Cambodia University students lay down flowers during a memorial service near a bridge where festival goers were killed on Monday November 22, 2010, in a stampede in Phnom Penh.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said Monday that no officials will be punished for the Diamond Bridge stampede, which the government now says killed 351 people last week.

“This was a joint mistake that nobody expected,” Hun Sen said in a public speech at the inauguration of a government building. “I would like to inform our countrymen that nobody must receive punishment in an accident.”

A government investigative committee issued it final decision on Monday, claiming the incident was caused by panic when festival-goers thought the swaying suspension bridge would collapse. No authorities have been singled out for the incident.

The stampede was one of the worst disasters in Cambodia in decades, leaving the country shocked in the aftermath of the Water Festival tragedy. Monday marked the seven-day funeral ceremonies for the 351 casualties, a figure revised upward Monday from 345.

On Monday, Hun Sen said the government's “biggest mistake was not completely assessing all sides” of the festival situation. “It was not expected [and it was] carelessness.”

However, Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, said carelessness was not an excuse to leave the incident unpunished.

“If there is carelessness, or an inability of the men in charge of the National Festival Committee, they must resign from their posts to increase the confidence of the people in national institutions,” he said. “If they do not do so, the souls of the dead cannot rest in peace.”

Hun Sen on Monday also denied accusations of a leaflet circulating in Poipet, on the Thai border, that said the government had intentionally allowed the bridge incident.

Meanwhile, he said, hospitals were continuing to treat some of the 395 injured. For those with serious injuries, the government will pay for transport and treatment in hospitals in Vietnam, he said.

“This is our responsibility to the victims,” he said.