Two cars belonging to the Cambodian Embassy in Germany, parked on the embassy grounds in Berlin, were set on fire in the early hours of Tuesday morning in what police believe was an act of arson, German authorities said Wednesday.
“Two cars on the grounds of the embassy, a Mercedes and a BMW, burned out,” said Stefan Redlich, spokesperson for the Berlin Police.
The incident, Mr. Redlich said, is being investigated by the police for state security, who are responsible for politically motivated crimes and acts of terror.
“Because this is about an embassy, we are taking this very seriously, and it is possible that somebody wanted to put down a marker against the country.”
The incident comes as Cambodian government officials attend bilateral talks in Brussels this week with the European Union on aid, trade and human rights.
A small group of Cambodian expatriates protested outside the Council of the European Union on Monday calling on Prime Minister Hun Sen to step down and accusing his ruling party of stealing July’s national election and gross human rights violations.
Berlin’s fire department is working to find the source of the blaze that engulfed the embassy cars, but both the fire brigade and the police for state security had little doubt that it was arson, police said, adding that the embassy building had been slightly damaged.
“Of course it could be possible that the cars simply caught fire, that there was a technical defect, but we are talking about a BMW and a Mercedes, so that’s extremely unlikely,” Mr. Redlich said.
As of Wednesday, nobody had claimed responsibility for the arson, Mr. Redlich said.
“Usually for politically motivated crimes somebody on the Internet would claim responsibility, but we haven’t found that yet, so we are still looking for a motive,” he said.
Berlin’s fire brigade received a phone call from a neighbor living opposite the Cambodian Embassy at 3:47 a.m. Tuesday local time.
Shortly after, embassy staff also informed the fire department, which arrived minutes later, Mr. Redlich said, adding that both police and fire fighters were invited onto the grounds of the embassy to extinguish the flames and investigate the fire.
“We are investigating this now, we need to look at all the evidence, find the source of the fire and interview witnesses, so it might take some time before we have results,” Mr. Redlich said.
State security police are also interested in questioning embassy staff, he said.
“For that, of course, we need permission of the embassy, but we assume that it’s in the best interest of the embassy that we find out who did this,” Mr. Redlich said.
According to German media, additional police units were deployed at the Cambodian Embassy in Berlin after five garment factory strike protesters were shot dead by military police in Phnom Penh on January 3.
The slaying of the protesters, and the wounding of more than 40 others, sparked protests by Cambodians and foreigners in front of Cambodian embassies worldwide.
Security around the embassy has been “adapted” after Tuesday’s fire, Mr. Redlich added.
Srey Chandara, a private assistant to Chun Thai, Cambodian Ambassador in Germany, said that staff are cooperating with local police.
“The cars belong to the embassy, but not to a specific person…. They [police] are still looking, and I spoke to the Ambassador but he said we are not allowed to give any information,” Mr. Chandara said.
Koy Kong, spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Phnom Penh, declined to comment about the Berlin incident.