Gov’t Asks Public for Help with Stampede Inquiry

A government committee investigating the cause of a stampede that killed 351 people last week on Phnom Penh’s Diamond Bridge called on the public yesterday to come forward with whatever information it had.

Opposition parties and non-government groups, meanwhile, continued calling for an independent inquiry.

In a statement issued Saturday, committee chairman Prum Sokha urged the public to hand in any photos and video clips taken at the scene before, during or after the Nov 22 stampede, which brought a tragic end to this year’s water festival.

Preliminary results of the investigation released Wednesday said festivalgoers triggering the stampede because they were startled when the packed suspension bridge started swaying.

Judicial Police Director Mok Chito, a committee member of the committee investigating the disaster’s cause, said that all three committees, including two others identifying victims and examining corpses, had met every day since they were formed on Tuesday. He said a larger committee overseeing all three would meet today but declined to elaborate on its work.

Almost as soon as the committees were formed, however, NGOs and opposition lawmakers expressed concerns that they were packed with government and police officials. The only exception is Pung Kheav Se, director-general of the firm that operates the bridge, the Overseas Cambodian Investment Corporation.

In a statement posted on her website Friday, SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua called for a more transparent and bi-partisan investigation including non-government groups, concerned citizens and victims.

“High ranking officials of the Ministry of Interior should not be part of the investigation committee as they were the ones in charge of the Water Festival,” she said.

Like others, she also urged investigators to look beyond what triggered the stampede and ask bigger questions about how prepared the police were to handle the massive crowds that ended up clogging foot traffic on the bridge and what security arrangements the city made with OCIC.

While praising police and civilians alike who responded to the stampede, Ms Sochua said, “there needs to be courage from those in charge to face the responsibility and accountability which come with the position they each hold.”

“Anybody with a sense of responsibility and accountability should probably look at a mirror, look at themselves and question whether they can…still sit in that same position,” said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan, however, said the committee was not even looking at responsibility.

“The committee is not to find out who is responsible for the incident,” he said. “The whole responsibility issue is another matter. Our country is a country with the rule of law, so we have to follow it.”

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said the committees seated only government officials because they were formed at 1 am on the night of the disaster.

    “We didn’t expect many non-government people working at that hour,” he said.

            (Additional reporting by Simon Marks)


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