In an attempt to embarrass Prime Minister Hun Sen during his visit to New York today, self-exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy has announced plans to lodge criminal complaints accusing Mr Hun Sen of an illegal cover-up after a 1997 political massacre.
The prime minister was today scheduled to join Asean leaders in meeting US President Barack Obama and to engage in bilateral discussions with Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
According to an attorney for Mr Rainsy, criminal complaints lodged today with federal prosecutors in Manhattan will accuse Mr Hun Sen and several current and former members of his security services of a campaign of distortion during a US Federal Bureau of Investigation probe of a 1997 grenade attack that killed at least 16 people and wounded more than 100, including an American.
If proven, such conduct could be punishable under US laws penalizing obstruction of justice, making false statements to US federal agents and threatening federal agents, according to Morton Sklar, Mr Rainsy’s attorney.
Mr Sklar also said Mr Rainsy hoped to be able to return to Cambodia as a result of his renewed legal action.
Sentenced in January to two years in prison for uprooting border markers in Svay Rieng province, Mr Rainsy was sentenced yesterday to an additional 10 years in prison for map forgery and has not returned to Cambodia since 2009.
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said yesterday that Mr Rainsy’s latest maneuver was of little concern, but could lessen any chance that he would ever return to political life in this country.
“Sam Rainsy can have the right to file a complaint but basing his on obstruction of justice would be irrelevant because FBI had full cooperation from Cambodian authority,” Mr Kanharith wrote in an e-mail.
“His move is more trying to embarrass the PM but to no avail. This move would make him unlikely negotiating his return.”
No arrests have been made in the March 30, 1997, grenade attack in which three unknown assailants lobbed four grenades at a peaceful demonstration led by Mr Rainsy in Phnom Penh.
However, documents released by the FBI in its ongoing declassification of investigatory records from the attack indicate that the FBI did believe Cambodian police engaged in “deliberate, deceptive and delaying actions” to thwart the investigation.
Evidence was doctored or withheld and key witnesses stormed out of interviews, according to the records disclosed to The Daily under the US Freedom of Information Act.
Witnesses interviewed by the FBI said two of the assailants were protected as they retreated by Mr Hun Sen’s personal bodyguards and that they were seen entering a CPP military base where one of the suspects, identified from composite sketches, was overheard discussing his role in the attack.
The FBI’s investigating agent said last year that “significant” investigative results pointed in the direction of forces loyal to the CPP but that the case was incomplete as he had been ordered to leave Cambodia to protect his own safety.
Mr Hun Sen and the ruling party have strongly denied any involvement in the attack.
In an interview on Wednesday, Mr Sklar, a civil rights attorney and founder of the World Organization for Human Rights USA, said the filing of the complaints had been deliberately timed to coincide with Mr Hun Sen’s visit to the US.
“Hun Sen’s presence in the United States provides a chance for public exposure,” he said by telephone from Maryland in the US. “It marks an opportunity to make it clear that one of the visiting heads of state in the United States has been heavily involved in major abuses.”
Mr Sklar said a similar petition would also be deposited today with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for review by various UN bodies.
Beyond merely asking for the investigation of a 13-year-old event, Mr Sklar said he believed today’s complaints would call attention to alleged interference in the work of the Khmer Rouge tribunal and alleged attempts to restrict the work of NGOs.
Mr Sklar also represented Mr Rainsy in an abortive civil action brought against Mr Hun Sen in 2005 in US courts seeking monetary damages for the grenade attack.
The lawsuit was suspended after an out of court settlement allowed Mr Rainsy and other opposition figures to return to Cambodia, according to Mr Sklar. In Cambodia, Mr Rainsy was convicted in 2005 of defaming Mr Hun Sen by blaming him for the attack, but was pardoned in 2006 at Mr Hun Sen’s request.
In a public appeal this week, Mr Rainsy called on the lawmakers of other nations to ask their governments to pressure Cambodian authorities into allowing Mr Rainsy’s return again.
“I’m sure he hopes that one of the results will be that the agreement will be that Sam Rainsy and other political opposition leaders will be afforded immunity, not prosecuted and allowed back into the country,” Mr Sklar said of Mr Rainsy’s intentions.
However, Mr Hun Sen said in public remarks on Monday that he was unwilling to take action to resolve Mr Rainsy’s legal problems in Cambodia.