The Sam Rainsy Party will be holding a ceremony today at its headquarters to remember the “victims of the July 6-7 coup” in 1997, according to a party news release.
Opposition party Secretary-General Eng Chhay Eang said the ceremony is intended to be a reminder of what happened when bloody fighting broke out between Funcinpec and the CPP eight years ago, leaving an unknown number of people dead.
“It was an historic event of bloodshed that must be remembered, especially the human rights violations,” he said Wednesday, adding that the ceremony is open to the public.
Bloody street battles erupted July 5 and 6, 1997, in Phnom Penh when troops loyal to then-second prime minister Hun Sen ousted then-first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh from power.
Hundreds of Funcinpec troops were captured, and human rights organizations reported many were executed along with many top Funcinpec officials.
Eng Chhay Eang said the ceremony will be held on July 7 because he said that was the day most were killed.
“Most of the lives were taken in the aftermath” of the fighting, he said.
Interior Ministry spokesman and CPP-member Khieu Sopheak said the opposition party was free to call the factional fighting a coup.
“It is a democratic country,” he said. “We cannot ban their right to speak.”
Funcinpec officials said there was no plan to hold a special ceremony for those party members and supporters who were killed during the battle.
Instead, party Deputy Secretary-General Chhim Seak Leng said the party remembers those who died during regular remembrance ceremonies held for other heroes throughout the course of the year.
But he said party Secretary-General Nhiek Bun Chhay, who was the Funcinpec military commander at the time, always conducts a ceremonial prayer every fast day for those who died.
“Nhiek Bun Chhay prays, offering fruit, some cakes and food,” Chhim Seak Leng said.
Nhiek Bun Chhay could not be reached for comment.