Four years ago Saturday, 353 mostly young men and women were killed on the final day of the Water Festival in a stampede on a packed bridge leading to Koh Pich island.
The anniversary of the tragic event, which the government has said was the single largest loss of life since the fall of the Khmer Rouge, was marked Friday by opposition CNRP officials, victims’ families and monks, who gathered at the Koh Pich memorial stupa for a blessing ceremony.
A second remembrance ceremony organized by City Hall is scheduled to be held on Saturday.
CNRP lawmaker Mu Sochua, who attended Friday’s event along with the party’s leader, Sam Rainsy, said after the ceremony: “We commemorated the very tragic deaths, the stampede of over 300 men, women and children who lost their lives, something that could have been prevented and until now the investigation has come up with no answers we can accept.”
Authorities were accused of negligence in the wake of the tragedy for failing to control the huge crowds that flooded Koh Pich that evening.
However, a government-ordered investigation found that the stampede was triggered by panic that the suspension bridge was about to collapse, and no one has ever been held accountable for the tragedy.
The city eventually tore down the bridge and built two sturdy concrete ones in its place. But efforts by opposition lawmakers to launch a second, independent investigation of the stampede’s root causes were shot down by the ruling party.
Som Sopheap, 46, who lost her 19-year-old son, Chan Sovannarith, to the stampede and plans to join Saturday’s ceremony, said since receiving a $14,000 payout for her loss she has heard little from the authorities.
“I am afraid they will forget it and I want this ceremony to be held forever,” she said.
Ms. Sopheap said that every November was always a time of sadness for her as she remembered her eldest son.
“When I come back home from work and look at the bed, I imagine that he is sitting and waiting for me,” she said. “If he were still alive, he would be in his mid-20s and might have many girlfriends, or I might even have a daughter-in-law.”
Khat Chhorn, 53, whose 12-year-old son, Chhoel Chhat, was killed in the crush, also plans to attend Saturday’s event.
Mr. Chhorn says there are painful reminders of a life needlessly cut short wherever he looks, and watching other children grow up reminds him of what he is missing out on.
“When I see his bicycle, his books and everything my son used to play with, my tears fall without my even realizing it. I kept everything that belonged to my son. I won’t sell it,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Holly Robertson)