City Official Posts Rainsy’s Letter to Hun Sen Over 1997 Attack

Phnom Penh City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche used the 17th anniversary of the March 1997 grenade attack on an opposition rally to post on the Internet Sunday a letter opposition leader Sam Rainsy wrote to Prime Minister Hun Sen in 2006 expressing regret for blaming him for the attack.

Mr. Dimanche posted the eight-year-old letter on his Facebook profile one hour after the close of an opposition rally in Phnom Penh on Sunday. The rally peaked with an unannounced march, the first since a wave of lethal protest repression in January. The protest opened with a ceremony for the 16 people killed and more than 100 injured in the attack on the 1997 rally, which was led by Mr. Rainsy.

“I very much regret committing wrongdoings to Samdech Prime Minister [Hun Sen], such as the accusation that Samdech Prime Minister is behind the throwing of a grenade upon a crowd of demonstrators on March 30, 1997, in front of National Assembly,” Mr. Rainsy says in the 2006 letter to Mr. Hun Sen.

“From today onwards, I will change my attitude to end all these issues and will avoid to have such issues repeated,” the opposition leader explains.

The letter formed part of an agreement that saw Mr. Rainsy return from France from self-imposed exile, after having fled to avoid charges of defaming Prince Norodom Ranariddh. Mr. Rainsy had told Beehive Radio that the Prince accepted a $30 million bribe from Mr. Hun Sen to back a new CPP government in 2004.

Mr. Rainsy’s return that month allowed the CPP to convene a session of the National Assembly with his presence on February 28—just two days before a scheduled annual meeting of foreign aid donors to Cambodia.

“Since 1993 until today, I think today is the best day in the history of the democratic process,” Mr. Hun Sen said after that National Assembly session.

A week later, Tioulong Saumura, an opposition lawmaker and Mr. Rainsy’s wife, told U.S. Embassy officials in Phnom Penh that the prime minister had offered Mr. Rainsy the post of deputy prime minister in negotiations before his return, according to a U.S. Embassy cable later leaked by anti-secrecy group Wikileaks.

“Saumura Tioulong…told us March 6 that PM Hun Sen recently offered to take opposition leader Sam Rainsy into the government as a deputy prime minister, possibly with broad authority over various ministries,” the U.S. cable says.

“Rainsy reportedly declined, telling the PM that such a move would be ‘political suicide’ for an opposition leader,” the cable explains.

Upon his return to Cambodia, Mr. Rainsy also withdrew from an investigation being undertaken by a New York court into whether Mr. Hun Sen was linked to the March 1997 grenade attack on the opposition leader’s supporters.

Mr. Dimanche said he had posted the letter in a personal capacity. “I just personally posted something related to the 30th of March, but it’s nothing to do with my position as Phnom Penh municipal spokesman,” the spokesman said, asking a reporter not to publish an article.

Mr. Rainsy on Monday denied using in his letter the word “wrongdoing” to describe his accusation that Mr. Hun Sen was behind the grenade attack.

“In the CPP propaganda newspapers, they say that I ‘apologized,’” Mr. Rainsy said. “There’s a big difference: I say I ‘regret’ the incident; it’s diplomatic language.”

“I may regret that you are stupid, that you are a bad person, that I met you, but this is not saying that I did something wrong,” the opposition leader said. “I continue to believe Hun Sen was behind the grenade attack. Had I apologized, I would never be in a position to repeat that.”

(Additional reporting by Alex Willemyns)

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