Mourners peacefully marked the one-year anniversary of the deadly March 30 grenade attack Monday as city authorities let the religious ceremony and demonstration continue as planned on the spot of the massacre.
“I admit that I have responsibility for this tragedy because I led the March 30 demonstration,” Sam Rainsy said in a speech across from the National Assembly. “I beg the victims and the families to please forgive me.”
Sam Rainsy, then the president of the Khmer Nation Party, was leading a peaceful demonstration calling for the independence of the judiciary last year when four grenades were thrown by unidentified attackers, killing at least 17 and injuring more than 150.
No one has been arrested for the attack, and the commission charged with bringing the organizers to justice has come under sharp criticism for their lack of progress.
Survivors, monks, garment-factory workers, and scores of international journalists in town to cover the return of deposed first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh listened to Sam Rainsy’s speech as a few municipal police officers stood by.
City officials vowed Sunday not to let the ceremony take place in the park, but during the rally police provided security by blocking off Sothearos Boulevard to traffic. One Don Penh district police officer said his only orders were “to protect the people.”
Man Choeun, chief of the municipal cabinet, said Monday the demonstration was allowed to proceed in the name of development.
“We don’t want to hear the sound of violence [in Phnom Penh]; we want to hear the sound of construction,” Man Choeun said.
Several victims of the attack were present in the crowd of about 450 people. Nine family members held pictures of those who died when the four grenades exploded.
Sreang Chantha, the widow of blast victim Norn San, said she was afraid to attend the ceremony but felt compelled to come.
“I came to demand the UN and the international community to strengthen human rights and democracy here,” Sreang Chantha said.
Im Malen, 53, said she will never forget the attack. Both her legs are paralyzed from shrapnel, much of it still imbedded in her back.
“I’m not afraid to come here today,” she said. “Why should I be afraid of death when both of my legs are disabled?”
Sam Rainsy said from now on the park should be called “Democracy Square,” and said after the July 26 election he would like to build a monument there to commemorate the tragedy.
After mourners lit joss sticks and laid wreaths on the spot where many of the victims fell, the participants held a one-hour Buddhist ceremony in the park across the street from Wat Botum.
“I am very happy and relieved that we have done what we must do to fulfill our duty,” Sam Rainsy said after the ceremony.
(Additional reporting by Kimsan Chantara)
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