Opposition officials last week marked the 20th anniversary of a deadly grenade attack on a Cambodia National Rescue Party rally in 1997 that left at least 16 people dead and injured more than 100.
Rights groups issued statements to coincide with the remembrance ceremony urging the international community to seek justice for the victims and calling on the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation to re-open its probe into the incident.
Kem Sokha, CNRP president, said justice in Cambodia would only come when “we eliminate persecution, insults ... slander and violence.”
Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), said in a statement that evidence of the involvement of an infamous military unit closely aligned with Prime Minister Hun Sen, Brigade 70, in the attack was “compelling”.
“The United Nations and Cambodia’s donors, who provide a large percentage of the national budget, should demand justice for victims for a crime that helped derail Cambodia’s democratic transition,” he said.
Adams added that the FBI had launched an investigation because an American citizen, Ron Abney, was severely injured during the attacks. The bureau says its investigation is continuing, but the agents involved reportedly have complained that additional informants in Cambodia are too frightened to come forward.
The statement added that instead of opening a serious investigation, Prime Minister Hun Sen immediately called for the arrest of the demonstration’s organizers and instructed police not to allow them to leave the country.
Sok Eysan, ruling Cambodian People’s Party spokesman, said HRW had “defamed” the government.
“We understand what they say is useless,” he said, adding that the FBI had closed its investigation years ago.
Former CNRP leader Sam Rainsy, who was injured in the attack, said despite the passage of time, “throwing grenades is a criminal offense, which can’t be forgotten.”
According to HRW, Brigade 70 troops were deployed at the demonstration, with FBI and United Nations told by witnesses that the soldiers allowed the attackers to enter the compound where the demonstration was taking place and escape their pursuers.
“At gunpoint, the bodyguards then stopped members of the crowd who were pursuing the grenade-throwers and threatened to shoot those who did not retreat,” it said.
Local civil society groups echoed HRW’s call for justice for the victims.