A small grenade rigged for a delayed explosion went off Sunday morning near the Funcinpec headquarters in Phnom Penh, hours after voting began in the national elections.
Minutes after that blast, two undetonated grenades were recovered from a park across the street from the Royal Palace, police and witnesses said.
“This is someone who wants to destroy the election,” Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said. “I think they want to make the people scared and they want to show [as though] security is not sufficient.”
At around 11:20 am, a small grenade packed into a milk can that had been laid in a trash bin in a traffic circle in front of the royalist party’s headquarters exploded, slightly injuring a bystander and causing minimal damage to the sidewalk, Municipal Police Chief Heng Pov said.
“I don’t accuse anyone,” Funcinpec Secretary-General Prince Norodom Sirivudh told reporters in front of Funcinpec headquarters, shortly after the blast. But he blamed a “culture of violence” for creating in people a lack of confidence that they are free to express their political views.
Calling the explosion an act of intimidation, Prince Sirivudh said, “I condemn strongly this kind of criminal activity during the national election day, and Funcinpec hopes that the authorities and the government will find the guilty [parties].”
About 10 minutes after the blast, police found two “mini-grenades” that appeared to have spilled out of a plastic bag full of garbage, said Deputy Commissioner of Municipal Police Pong Savarith.
“I cannot conclude yet who did this,” Pong Savarith said. He said that the grenades were of Chinese origin and are supposed to cause two explosions each, but did not elaborate on the extent of the damage that they could have caused.
Sai Kim Sann, a municipal police officer who was patrolling the area at the time, said several youngsters found the grenades and reported them to him.
The detonation pins had been removed from the grenades, but the spoons that trigger the explosion were held in place with rubber bands that had been soaked in kerosene, he said. The kerosene was to have eroded the rubber bands, triggering the explosion, Sai Kim Sann said.
“The persons who laid the grenades were not skillful,” Heng Pov said. “They did not put the triggers to the side, but laid the triggers on the ground so they could not explode.”
Police at both sites said the grenade that exploded near the Funcinpec offices was rigged in a similar fashion.
Pong Savarith said the explosive devices near the Royal Palace were of the same make as the one that exploded near Funcinpec headquarters.
Kek Galabru, president of the human rights group Licadho, said that though the motivation for the incidents remains unknown, there will be a negative impact on the electoral process and how observers would view the election.
“It is still violence. People are really afraid,” Kek Galabru said. “This is very bad for the election. I’m sorry to see this kind of thing happen.”
Heng Pov said the grenades were in municipal police custody.
“They have not exploded yet and we hope that they are not about to explode,” he said.
The incidents had no effect on the election, because they were far from polling stations, Heng Pov said.
(Reporting by Wency Leung, Nhem Chea Bunly, Kim Chan, David Shaftel, Phann Ana and Kevin Doyle)