After the four grenades exploded there was silence. Many in the crowd who moments before had been watching a peaceful demonstration were too stunned to speak, and their ears were ringing from the force of the explosions.
On the grass across the street from the National Assembly more than 100 people were bleeding and mangled. The death toll would eventually climb to 16.
Shortly after the March 30 grenade attack that began a year of political bloodshed in Cambodia, the silence ended as politicians traded accusations and protest leader Sam Rainsy, the target of the apparent assassination attempt, called for an investigation.
But nearly one year later, silence again reigns. No arrests have been made and the inquiry has produced no leads, investigators concede. Human rights workers say those responsible for the bloodshed may never be brought to justice.
“Was [the attack] ever acknowledged? Was there ever any serious attempt to do anything about this?” a human rights worker who aided the initial stages of the investigation said this week.
After the attack, then first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh called for an independent UN investigation. But such an inquiry also needed the approval of Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, who refused. His advisers said at the time the investigation could be handled locally.
The government’s response was to create a bipartisan investigative team headed by National Police Director Hok Lundy, a CPP central committee member, and Funcinpec’s Yeng Marady, deputy director of the National Police.
But Yeng Marady said Monday that he was never actively part of the investigation. Instead, Teng Savong, deputy director of National Police and a nephew of Hun Sen, has led the inquiry.
Teng Savong defended his commission’s work Wednesday and said the commission is still actively investigating the attack.
“Those criticizing our work are politicians and have political motives. We are working in the framework of the National Police and we’re staking our reputations on finding the murderers,” he said, adding that his relationship to Hun Sen had no bearing on his job.
“We have not made any conclusions as a result of the investigation. We don’t want to make any statements before we know the results because of the political climate,” he said.
Co-Minister of the Interior You Hockry (Fun) said after the July 5-6 fighting that the witnesses and suspects all ran away, so the investigation ground to a halt.
“We’re stuck in the middle of the investigation, so we can’t make any conclusions,” You Hockry said Monday.
But critics disagree, saying there was never any political will to solve the case and that the bipartisan commission is stacked with CPP loyalists.
Kem Sokha, a BLDP-Son Sann member of parliament and chairman on the National Assembly Committee on Human Rights on Tuesday called the special commission “useless.”
“Even if there are some Funcinpec members of the commission, they are no longer loyal to Funcinpec,” he said.
“We have no confidence that the current government can find justice for the victims….Maybe after the free and fair elections,” he added, and blamed the attack on “people who have power.”
A Western rights worker added, “We’ve known from day one that the commission was never going to be functioning.”
Only hours after the grenades exploded, Sam Rainsy accused Hun Sen of orchestrating the attack. In a Tuesday interview, the opposition politician said he hasn’t changed that belief, even though he concedes he has no direct evidence linking the second prime minister to the crime.
“I have dared Hun Sen to file a lawsuit against me [for slander] in France, but he did not dare,” said Sam Rainsy, now the president of the Sam Rainsy Party.
The Western rights worker said Sam Rainsy must remain responsible when making allegations. “I think Sam Rainsy has every right as a victim of this to be angry,” he said. “But he should, as a responsible politician, distinguish between facts and allegations.”
Sam Rainsy bases part of his claim on an unnamed Funcinpec police official who passed on notes he took during a US Federal Bureau of Investigation inquiry into the attack. He released the notes in October, along with claims that they proved Hun Sen’s involvement.
Interior co-Minister Sar Kheng last April invited the FBI to provide technical assistance to investigators. An American was injured in the attack, paving the way under US law for the FBI’s participation.
The FBI released three composite sketches taken from eye witnesses who saw the men throw the grenades, then run toward the CPP compound behind Wat Botum. Their escape route, and a line of Hun Sen’s bodyguards dressed in full combat gear allegedly aiding their escape, immediately cast suspicions on the party.
Four separate FBI sources told The Washington Post in late June that the investigation indicated that the bodyguard unit was involved in the attack. The allegations were vehemently denied by Hun Sen spokesmen at the time.
Behind Wat Botum is a maze of pro-CPP households where Hun Sen maintains a residence along with some of his advisers and bodyguards. Although non-CPP households are there, the neighborhood is considered a “restricted access area.”
Shortly after the attack, witnesses said the suspects ran toward this area, passing the line of Hun Sen’s bodyguards who had been positioned between the demonstrators and the wat, according to the Western rights worker and press reports.
Witnesses said that the bodyguards let the suspects through but stopped civilians in pursuit. Many of those interviewed said there is a strong case against the bodyguard unit as accomplices to the murders.
“The people who helped the suspects escape are as guilty as those who committed this crime,” You Hockry said.
Others, including Kem Sokha, agreed. He said the bodyguards could at least be questioned.
The Western rights worker added, “At minimum, they would be accessories after the fact by allowing the perpetrators to go through their line and pointing their guns at those who were chasing them.”
The Western human rights worker said all indications show someone in a position of power organized the attack.
“It’s wrong to accuse Hun Sen of masterminding the attack,” the Western human rights worker said. “But it’s fair to say that [available] evidence points toward Hun Sen, or at the very least the commanders of his bodyguard unit.”
In the weeks leading up to the July 5-6 fighting, which eventually took the grenade attack out of the public’s eye, the investigation turned its attention to a suspect known as “Brazil.”
Brazil, also known under the pseudonym Kong Samrith, emerged in the local press as one of the suspects shown in a series of three composite drawings distributed by the FBI. In June, the local press traded accusations about whom Brazil worked for. Opposition papers claimed he was one of Hun Sen’s bodyguards, and pro-CPP papers said he worked for Funcinpec or a businessman.
You Hockry said in a July 1 interview that Brazil had been interrogated by the bipartisan commission. During his interrogation, Brazil denied taking part in the March 30 attack. But he admitted that he had tried twice before to kill Sam Rainsy at garment factory strikes, You Hockry said.
Sam Rainsy said Tuesday that he had recently learned from “reliable sources” that Brazil was killed in the July attack on Funcinpec-controlled Tang Kasaing military base.
He said after Brazil’s picture began circulating in the press, he went into hiding, afraid that he had become a liability to those responsible for ordering the attack. Funcinpec General Nhiek Bun Chhay, then the RCAF first deputy chief of staff, discovered him in Kompong Speu province and offered him protection.
Sam Rainsy alleged Brazil was last seen going into battle at Tang Kasaing base, was killed in the fighting and was later cremated.
Teng Savong said he heard Brazil had been killed in the fighting, but he also heard reports that Brazil was with Nhiek Bun Chhay in O’Smach, where resistance forces are battling government troops. He denied Brazil had been questioned by the commission, but acknowledged that if he had, it could have helped them solve the case.
You Hockry said Brazil was with Nhiek Bun Chhay and at Tang Kasaing until the fighting.
Both Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy called on the US to release the findings of the FBI investigation, which they said includes taped interviews and photos of Brazil. Teng Savong said he would welcome back the FBI to investigate if it still has any doubts about the crime.
US Embassy officials declined to comment on the case.
“This case will not be forgotten.” the Western rights worker said. “This was an atrocity on a world scale.”
© 1998 – 2015, The Cambodia Daily. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in print, electronically, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without written permission.