A small explosive detonated at the Vietnam-Cambodia Friendship Monument in Phnom Penh at around 5:20 am Sunday, and two other larger devices were made safe by bomb disposal experts later in the morning.
The first explosion, which is believed to have been a small detonator, hurt no one, and no visible damage was done to the monument, which commemorates Vietnam’s support of Cambodian forces that toppled the Khmer Rouge regime in January 1979.
Following the initial blast, which was heard by residents in the vicinity of Wat Botum and the former Assembly building, police sealed off roads and called in experts from the Cambodian Mine Action Center who spent several hours assessing the remaining devices.
Wearing protective body armor, CMAC officials paced around the raised platform of the monument setting up a rope pulley system to dislodge the two intact devices, which were made from plastic buckets containing a mix of ammonium nitrate and diesel, police said. Radio-controlled detonators were placed in bags of high-explosive TNT powder inside the plastic containers.
Better known as “fertilizer bombs,” such devices have been used widely by radical movements including Spain’s Basque separatists ETA, the Irish Republican Army and by the perpetrators of the Oklahoma bombing in the US in 1995.
Police interviewed Sunday morning were uncertain as to why the two remaining bombs had not detonated and why the first appeared to not have detonated properly. Authorities also found near the monument what appeared to be two small radio transmitters—similar in appearance to car alarm controllers on a key ring—which could have been used to detonate the bombs remotely.
Police and municipal officials had no motive for the planned explosions and were not naming any suspects.
Ros Chea, chief of village three in Daun Penh district’s Chaktomuk commune, where the monument is located, said he arrived at the scene just 10 minutes after the first explosion. “We could smell diesel from where the first plastic container exploded but we didn’t know whether there was a TNT booby-trap in the other containers,” he said.
Municipal Governor Kep Chuktema, National Police Chief Hok Lundy and several other officials were at the scene of the bomb removal effort later in the morning.
Scores of military police and police special forces units sealed off roads, though several foreign tourists were seen wandering on foot in the Wat Botum park and along Sothearos Boulevard apparently oblivious to the bomb disposal effort nearby.
At around 11 am, CMAC officials used their pulley system to yank the bomb containers away from the raised base of the monument. Pulling away the first container, a detonator exploded making a loud noise but doing no damage. The second plastic container partially broke apart as it was yanked free from the base of the monument. It landed in a dangerous condition on the ground of the nearby park, so CMAC officials opted to undertake a controlled explosion.
Soldiers set up sandbags around the device and the CMAC officials placed a small explosive charge on the container, which they then detonated to destroy what remained of the bomb.
Speaking briefly to reporters after both devices were disabled, Hok Lundy said that authorities had likely saved the monument from collapse. Kep Chuktema also said the operation was a success.
Deputy Cabinet Chief Suon Rindy branded the failed bomb attackers saboteurs who were aiming to destroy the monument and make political turmoil.
“The bombs were aimed at sabotaging our society,” he said.
Sok Phal, deputy chief of National Police, would neither confirm nor deny reports that several people who live in the park were taken in for questioning after they reported seeing men on bicycles planting the containers early Sunday morning.
“Now our police are doing [their work]. We cannot release any information,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Kevin Doyle)