Royal Palace Minister Kong Sam Ol announced Wednesday that there will be a midnight curfew during the Water Festival this year, held for the first time since 2010, when 353 people were crushed to death on a bridge to Koh Pich island on the festival’s final night.
The festival will be held this year from November 5 to 7.
Speaking at a conference of festival organizers at Phnom Penh’s Chaktomuk conference hall, Mr. Sam Ol sought to distance himself from the tragedy, which has been immortalized in the form of a stupa where the bridge—fully dismantled by 2012—once stood.
“The event [in 2010] went beyond midnight, and people accused me of organizing it,” he said, adding that the government would impose a curfew this year to prevent such late-night disasters.
“I did not organize anything at Koh Pich, only the places where the boats have the race. They blamed [Prime Minister Hun Sen] and I because we organized the ceremony,” he added.
No one has ever been held accountable for the stampede. Following a brief investigation, Mr. Hun Sen announced that it was an accident, and that there was no need for punitive action.
For the past three years, the event, which usually draws about 1 million people to the capital, has been canceled, with the government citing seasonal flooding and the death of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk as its reasons.
Mr. Sam Ol said Wednesday that the festival was back by popular demand.
“This Water Festival was requested from local people, because some people said that if we do not hold the Water Festival, it will not bring peace to their homelands and villages,” he said.
Phnom Penh police chief Chuon Sovann said Wednesday his forces are prepared to prevent a repeatof 2010.
“Our involved units will prepare a strict plan to guarantee security during the ceremony,” he said. “We will deploy our expert forces to guard all places to avoid unexpected incidents that could occur.”
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