‘Booby-Trap’ Attack Caught Siem Reap Asleep

siem reap town – No one expected a rocket attack here, much less one from beneath a flower bush.

“We weren’t thinking about what we call in English, a ‘booby trap,’” said Siem Reap’s provincial governor, Toan Chay, on Friday, “and we never thought it would be a booby trap underneath a bougainvillea tree.”

They may have identified the tree, but police have yet to find any suspects in the apparently remote-controlled Sept 24 rocket attack on a convoy of parliamentarians. Government officials are describing the attack as an at­tempt on the life of Second Prime Minister Hun Sen.

What police do know is that it was a sophisticated device.

“It was set up by scientists, or technicians,” said the CPP’s provincial chief, Soun Loun, on Friday. “This is the first time something like this has happened on a royal procession.”

Police have spoken of a man standing a short distance from the blast and operating what ap­peared to be a remote-controlled device.

They also say the only ones with a motive for killing Hun Sen are the opposition or anti-Phnom Penh government forces under commanders such as Nhiek Bun Chhay or Ta Mok.

Nhiek Bun Chhay in turn ac­cused Hun Sen of staging the attack himself. Other government officials have spoken of a foreign link and the suspicious presence of “two Westerners.” Hun Sen has offered a $200,000 reward to any person who can identify the mastermind of the attack.

No parliamentarians were in­jured by the rocket, which was one of four wired to go off, but a 15-year-old boy was killed and three members of his family were injured in the blast.

As of Sunday, police confirmed that no arrests had been made.

Toan Chay, a longtime resistance commander against the People’s Republic of Kampuchea, said that during his time in the jungle the guerrillas did not have the technical capacity to carry out such a remote-controlled attack.

Seang Nam, a newly elected CPP parliamentarian who owns the hotel where CPP officials stayed the night before the attack, said Friday that government soldiers also lack the technical skills to have orchestrated the attack.

Those interviewed said they believed Hun Sen was the target and scoffed at suggestions the CPP planned the attack. “We earned nothing from this attack. How could we be the terrorists?” asked Soun Loun.

They also said that anti-government operatives would have had no problem penetrating Siem Reap town. “Everyone’s Khmer,” said Seang Nam. “You can’t tell who the terrorists are.”

Toan Chay conceded the attack was a complete failure on the part of state security forces. “We are totally defeated,” the governor said.

National Police Director-General Hok Lundy and RCAF Chief of Staff Ke Kim Yan, visited the site of the procession two days before the blast to arrange security, Toan Chay said.

On the day before the attack, the governor himself and security officers walked the path of the procession to check the grass and look for suspicious people. Toan Chay estimates the device was planted about an hour before traffic generally begins at 5:30 am on Route 6. “Nobody was concentrating,” he lamented. “Nobody in Siem Reap thinks about security because they think every is safe. Not like in Phnom Penh.”

One longtime CPP police colonel said Sunday that in such a serious breach of security, the Interior Ministry should first suspend those responsible for security—in this case, the Hok Lundy and the provincial heads of the police and military police.

Then it should conduct its own investigation independent of the police, he said.

Despite the attack, the CPP doesn’t fear any more violence.

Seang Nam points out that, as a businessman and parliamentarian, he does not travel with bodyguards or a gun, unlike many of his counterparts in Phnom Penh.

Most residents interviewed agree that Siem Reap has some work to do to repair its image. “[The attack] defamed this province first because all of the top officials like the King and the prime minister were here,” said Soun Loun, a Siem Reap native and former school teacher.

Moto drivers, guesthouse operators and tour directors say there has been a downturn in business following a slight pickup after September’s anti-government demonstrations in Phnom Penh that drove tourists away.

“This [terrorist] action could repeat in the future,” said Toan Chay, citing guerrilla activity in neighboring provinces. “There is constant pressure against my town, but if I say this it could damage our image to tourists.”

(Additional reporting by Khuy Sokhoeun)



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