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Ron Abney, American Pro-Democracy Advocate, Dies at 70

Ron Abney, an American, was working to promote democracy in Cambodia when he was wounded in a March 30, 1997 grenade attack against a peaceful demonstration.

Ron Abney, an American pro-democracy activist injured in a Phnom Penh grenade attack in 1997, died Saturday at the age of 70.

Abney had been an ardent supporter of pro-democracy activists in Cambodia, and he had pushed hard for the arrest of those who committed the March 1997 attack.

The attack on an opposition rally led by Sam Rainsy left 16 people dead and hundreds wounded.

Abney’s injury in the attack prompted an FBI investigation that was ultimately abandoned, but opposition officials say security forces of Prime Minister Hun Sen abetted the attack, a claim the prime minister has denied.

Abney continued his pursuit of the case, however, and had pushed the US courts to further investigate the attack, which came just months ahead of a coup that put Hun Sen firmly in power. He and Sam Rainsy had filed a suit in New York alleging Hun Sen’s involvement in the attack.

A family member said Tuesday Abney had succumbed to complications of open-heart surgery on Dec. 17.

“For me, Sam Rainsy, for other Cambodian democrats, this is painful,” Sam Rainsy said from France on Tuesday, where he remains in exile.

Abney, who supported an orphanage in Takeo province, had been a high-level campaign manager in US politics as well as a pro-democracy activist for the US-based International Republican Institute.

Kem Sokha, president of the minority opposition Human Rights Party, said he had lost “a good friend.”

“He absolutely opposed dictatorships,” Kem Sokha said. “He was never lost to the tricks of dictators, as some foreigners are.”

Rich Garella, a friend of Abney who worked with him to produce a film about the killing of labor leader Chea Vichea, said Abney had been “a man of justice.”

“He always felt that justice was important for everybody,” Garella said. “And that everybody deserved fair treatment, and justice, and to have their voices heard. So I think he is a very good example and an inspiration for all kinds of people.”

Funeral services will be held on Jan. 5 at the First Baptist Church in Cochran, Ga.