Hundreds of supporters and onlookers listened Thursday as Sam Rainsy marked a grim three-year anniversary: It was on March 30, 1997, that at least 16 people died in a grenade attack on a political rally.
“That day was a tragic event for the victims, their families, their friends, for the Cambodian people and for all those who care for democracy and justice,’’ the opposition leader said. “This tragedy will continue to haunt me until the rest of my life. I had never felt so close the breath of death.’’ He praised the courage and commitment of those who had died, saying they had given their lives for democracy and justice. And he called for an independent international tribunal to investigate the attack, “free of corruption and political interference.’’
Thursday’s ceremonies were held across from the National Assembly, at the same place and time of the fatal attack. As the clocked ticked toward the fateful hour of 8:30 am, the crowd seemed a bit edgy.
But the moment passed uneventfully.
About 20 police officers stood on the periphery of the crowd, directing traffic; a handful of men in military uniforms watched from a block or so away.
The ceremonies were held near a small stupa erected Wednesday night by the Sam Rainsy Party. The cement monument lists the names of those killed, highlighted in gold paint.
The hot, thick air was so still that the memorial candles stuck on the sidewalk burned steadily and the smoke from the ceremonial incense rose straight up.
Those attending included families of the victims, as well as some of the more than 125 people who were injured.
Sok Sokhum, 52, displayed the scars she still carries on both legs from shrapnel. “I did not go to the hospital for treatment, because I was afraid,’’ she said. As a result, she still suffers pain from the shrapnel in her body.
Sok Sokhum is the mother of former Sam Rainsy security chief Srun Vong Vannak, who was convicted in 1997 of killing Prime Minister Hun Sen’s brother-in-law and sentenced to 13 years in prison; he was pardoned and released Sept 30, 1998. Sam Rainsy maintains he was framed.
Sam Rainsy’s bodyguard, Hann Mony, was one of those killed in the attack. Ten other bodies were identified by Sam Rainsy Party members in the days after the attack; five more bodies were photographed at the scene, but never identified.
No one has ever been prosecuted for the attack, although the government says its investigation is continuing.
Party officials read letters of support from US senators John McCain, the former Republican candidate for president, and Mitch McConnell; US representatives Dana Rohrabacher and John Porter; and Ron Abney, an American citizen who was injured in the attack.
McCain, writing on behalf of the International Republican Institute, said it was “tragic’’ that those killed and hurt were demonstrating for “an impartial judiciary and the rule of law in Cambodia.’’
The demonstrators’ courage “stands in stark contrast to the cowardly actions of the attackers,’’ McCain wrote. He said the judicial system’s failure to prosecute those attackers leaves many Americans wondering how it can deliver justice “for the 1.7 million people killed by the Khmer Rouge.’’