Opposition leader Sam Rainsy on Sunday said he will file a criminal complaint later this week against Prime Minister Hun Sen, alleging the premier masterminded the 1997 grenade attack that killed at least 13 people at an opposition rally in Phnom Penh.
The move counters two defamation lawsuits that Hun Sen and the government filed against Sam Rainsy last week over the opposition leader’s allegations that the ruling CPP was responsible for killing Chea Vichea, a prominent union leader who was shot dead Jan 22.
“If Hun Sen sues me for defamation, I will sue him for an attempt to kill me,” Sam Rainsy said in a speech to Alliance of Democrats supporters in Dangkao district’s Broteah Lang commune.
Sam Rainsy led the March 1997 rally near the National Assembly, in which at least 13 people were killed and more than 120 others injured after grenades were lobbed into the crowd. No arrests have been made. In the following days, Hun Sen denied accusations that the CPP had launched the attack.
During his speech, Sam Rainsy said he would demand $50 million from Hun Sen in response to the prime minister’s lawsuit, which asks Sam Rainsy to pay $5 million in compensation.
In a statement released Sunday, the opposition party said Sam Rainsy will also demand that Hun Sen face a prison sentence on charges of murder and complicity.
Opposition party spokesman Ung Bun-Ang on Sunday said Sam Rainsy would file the countersuit in Phnom Penh Municipal Court this week after he returns from Bangkok, where he is expected to meet today with Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh.
Though both Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy are protected under parliamentary immunity and are unlikely to stand trial, Ung Bun-Ang said the opposition’s countersuit “is a test to see how impartial the court in this country is.”
He added: “We will have some evidence from all sources, including the US, of course.”
US Embassy spokeswoman Heide Bronke said she did not know what evidence the opposition party was referring to, adding, “This is not something the US is going to take sides on.”
The US Federal Bureau of Investigation sent agents here to look into the 1997 grenade attack after US citizen Ron Abney was injured in the leg by shrapnel. Excerpts of their investigation report were leaked in 1998 to The Washington Post, which reported that the FBI “tentatively pinned responsibility for the blasts, and subsequent interference, on personal bodyguard forces employed by Hun Sen.”
Ung Bun-Ang said Sam Rainsy is expected to discuss the ongoing political deadlock with Prince Ranariddh during his visit to Bangkok, and will return to Phnom Penh on Thursday.
The CPP on Sunday welcomed a lawsuit from Sam Rainsy.
“He’s free to launch any suit,” said CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith. But, he warned, “If he could not provide substantial proof, Hun Sen might sue against him.”
Khieu Kanharith added it would be better for the two parties to settle their disputes in court “once and for all.”
Sam Rainsy’s complaint will be the second criminal suit that members of the Alliance have launched against the prime minister.
In December, Prince Ranariddh filed a complaint in Phnom Penh Municipal Court, alleging Hun Sen had incited the Oct 18 killing of Ta Prohm radio journalist Chuor Chetharith.
It countered a defamation suit by Hun Sen against the prince, claiming Prince Ranariddh had falsely accused the prime minister of being involved with Chuor Chetharith’s death.
Meanwhile on Sunday, Eng Chhay Eang, the Sam Rainsy Party’s secretary-general, said he would take legal action against three people who he said defamed him by implicating him in a death threat against Chea Vichea last July.
He said he will file the lawsuits in Phnom Penh Municipal Court today against Men Vatana, who told reporters Friday he had threatened Chea Vichea on orders from Eng Chhay Eang; Sim Hong, the municipal military deputy police chief who presented Men Vatana’s case to reporters; and state-run TVK commentator Pang Nath, who interviewed the suspect.
“I will file lawsuits on defamation against them because they invented information,” Eng Chhay Eang said.
Sim Hong was not available for comment Sunday and Men Vatana remains in military police custody.
But, Pang Nath, who is also the deputy director of TVK’s program production, denied he defamed the politician, saying his reporting was not politically biased as Eng Chhay Eang charges.
“The report is just a normal report. It’s not defamation,” Pang Nath said, adding he had wanted to contact Eng Chhay Eang before the television report went to air, but could not reach him.
Pang Nath added that, though TVK serves the government, it does not support any political party.
(Additional reporting by Wency Leung)