Details Still Murky Over Rocket Blast
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has called Thursday’s B-40 rocket explosion near a CPP motorcade “the ultimate attempt to stop the course of history and to bring Cambodia back to year zero.”
The statement, issued Friday, called the aim of the attack “to cut down the life of a man of modest origin who symbolizes the rebirth of a nation after the holocaust and the return of hope of the new generation of the Cambodian people.”
Hor Sothuom, director of the ministry’s press department, on Sunday defended the strong tone of the statement, saying that “the attempt [on Second Prime Minister Hun Sen’s life] was strong. It was quite a concentrated attempt on Hun Sen. We do not know what could happen if Hun Sen were hurt. We cannot reject or deny any possibility.”
Foreign news reports and diplomatic reactions to the incident in Siem Reap have varied. Some have called the explosion an assassination attempt on Hun Sen while others say it could have been orchestrated by the CPP.
After two grenades exploded three weeks ago at the Phnom Penh residence of Hun Sen, opposition leaders accused supporters of the second prime minister of staging the attack to provide a pretext for cracking down on pro-democracy demonstrators.
There also have been various accounts of where Hun Sen’s Land Cruiser was at the time of Thursday’s blast in Siem Reap.
While some government officials say the rocket passed just in front of Hun Sen’s car, others have said just behind. Still other eyewitnesses said that the rocket was fired well after the vehicle passed the area.
Nhim Sela, the deputy commander of the provincial military police, said at the scene shortly after the explosion that the rocket sailed past vehicles at the end of the CPP motorcade. Hun Sen was in a vehicle near the front.
“It was fortunate for Cambodia and for the Cambodian people that Samdech Hun Sen escaped unharmed from this assassination attempt when one of the B-40 rockets passed just a few feet in front of his moving car, ” the Foreign Ministry statement said.
The motorcade was on its way to the opening of the new Assembly at the Siem Reap residence of King Norodom Sihanouk.
Referring to the teen-age boy killed in the attack and his wounded family members, the statement read, “We deplore that the victims are always innocent people.”
Over the weekend, provincial police pointed to the Khmer Rouge or the resistance led by General Nhiek Bun Chhay as the most likely culprits. They also said the perpetrator probably has already fled the area.
One Western diplomat named three CPP members as possible perpetrators, insinuating that the attack may have been orchestrated by Hun Sen himself.
The six-paragraph statement by the Foreign Ministry also alleges that “systematic psychological warfare campaigns have been waged using local and international media to smear, to discredit, to mislead public opinion about democracy and [the] human rights situation in Cambodia.”
The statement concludes with a condemnation of the “foreign sponsors of the terrorist group” for “putting up a strong face to defend the criminals by making again some misleading comments,” and for “blaming others for their crimes.”
“They can no longer pretend to champion the cause of democracy and human rights with these terrorist acts. They should be condemned for their unholy war against Cambodia and the Cambodian people.”
The statement which refrained from naming the “foreign sponsors” followed the release of Thursday letter by US Congressman Dana Rohrabacher calling the attack “a ploy by Hun Sen to have a false excuse to crack down on his opponents.”
Hor Sothuon said Sunday that he had not read the letter from Rohrabacher, but had heard about its content.
On Friday, government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said that eight people had been arrested in connection with the attack. But provincial police said Sunday that five were questioned Thursday afternoon and released within three hours.
“They are not suspects at all,” Saom Nady, a deputy provincial chief for the judicial police, said of the group, which included street vendors near the attack.
Khieu Kanharith could not explain the discrepancy on Sunday, but said, “I’m not sure all are still [arrested].”
(Additional reporting by Saing Soenthrith and Jeff Smith)