Three years ago today someone—witnesses say several men—threw a handful of grenades into a crowd listening to an early morning political speech by Sam Rainsy.
Seventeen people died. More than 125 were injured, some horribly. In seconds, the park where they had been standing looked like a war zone, with severed limbs and pools of blood staining the pavement and earth.
Shattered human beings lay crumpled on the ground like debris.
No one has ever been prosecuted for the crime.
Human rights activists, politicians and diplomats say the criminal violence of March 30, 1997, struck at the very heart of a fledgling democracy movement.
They say those explosions echo through Cambodian society today, and that the rest of the world hears them too.
“In Cambodia, you don’t need to blow up a whole stadium’’ to make your point, said one Western human rights worker. “You don’t need to do much to intimidate the people, because of what happened here.”
Activists say the government’s inability—or unwillingness— to bring the perpetrators to justice is like a cancer eating away at the country from within.
“A criminal act has been done. You cannot keep the case open indefinitely, year after year, with nothing happening,’’ said an Asian diplomat.
Government investigators insisted this week the case is still open. But, they say, they can’t get enough evidence to convict anyone.
While some say the government’s apparent paralysis simply goads pro-democracy forces to work harder, others say the message being broadcast to the world is that Cambodia is not ready to deal honestly with its shortcomings. And, they say, as long as the killings go unpunished, that message will be true.
“If they can’t be honest about the events of Mar 30, there is little hope for honesty in the Khmer Rouge tribunal,’’ said the diplomat. “They are a long way from a real democracy.’’
Although there had been scattered instances of political violence in the months leading up to March 1997, many people thought Cambodia had progressed beyond such brutal tactics, that the country was finally leaving its violent past behind.
“Cambodians had started believing it was really possible that you could go to a gathering in front of the National Assembly on a weekend and speak out about anything that was going on,’’ said the rights worker.
Political rallies had become so cccc