Grenade Attack Bodes Ill for Press Freedom

Thursday, April 24, 1997

Grenade attack bodes ill for press freedom in Cambodia

(Canadian Committee to Protect Journalists, 24 April 1997)

Even Cambodians, many of whom have been touched by the ongoing daily violence in the country, were shocked by the grenade attack on 30 March which killed 19 people and injured more than 100 others.

The power of the blast and it's timing were clearly intended to maim and kill. The attackers launched four grenades into a routine political demonstration, in front of the National Assembly. The projectiles had at least one intended target --Sam Rainsy -- a political opposition leader, who was heading the protest. He narrowly survived because his bodyguard shielded him from the blast.

Duong Darvuth, formerly of the "Neak Prayuth" ("The Fighter") newspaper, was killed in the blast. More than 16 other journalists were injured, some seriously. Including one journalist who will likely remain blind.

The attack has had a huge impact on the mood of the country. Before when observers talked about Cambodia it was with optimism about the path the country was taking towards peace and democracy. Now, since this brutal attack people are talking about how much Cambodia has gone backwards, back to the days of indiscriminate violence and repression.

After the attack, a sombre Rainsy said: "There is no democracy here. We are back to square one."

The implications say analysts, are that opposition figures and journalists have cause to fear they will be silenced, that political rallies may not be tolerated and that the coming election campaign likely will be marred by intimidation and violence.

Ten days after the deadly grenade explosion, the Cambodian Interior Ministry slapped a ban on street protests.

The killing put even more strain on the uneasy coalition in the Cambodian government. Co-premiers Prince Ranariddh and Hun Sen share power in a unique arrangement set up after U.N. sponsored elections in 1993 in which Hun Sen rejected his party's loss and demanded a role in parliament.

Prince Noradom Ranaridddh accused Hun Sen of being behind the attack. Hun Sen denied involvement, but some are doubtful of his innocence after he delivered a veiled warning to the opposition. He suggested that the leader of the demonstration be arrested and be made to accept responsibility for what happened, noting that words can result in bloodshed.

Neither do many people believe anybody will be brought to justice for the bloody attack. Police have not yet named any suspect in the case. No suspects have ever been arrested in any of the frequent cases of political violence including the murder of journalists and attacks against rival political offices.

Analysts believe Hun Sen is afraid that Sam Rainsy and Ranariddh who are already close allies will join forces to defeat him in next year's elections. And they say this is why Sen may be trying to intimidate his opposition.

Just where Cambodia will go from here is unclear. The international community appears to be losing patience and hope after spending $3 billion to try to develop democracy in the country. And observers say it is too wary of instability to push the government to reform.

Sen ruled Cambodia during the 1980s with the support of Vietnamese troops who had toppled the genocidal Khmer Rouge. Ranariddh is the son of Kim Norodom Sihanouk, who ruled the country until the Khmer Rouge violently overthrew his government. The vast ideological differences that separate the two ruling parties has made cooperation all but impossible.

RECOMMENDED ACTION:

The Canadian Committee to Protect Journalists (CCPJ) is asking for donations for journalists injured in the grenade attack in Phnom Penh on 30 March 1997. The request is being made on behalf of Susan Aitkin, Director of the Cambodia Communications Institute, a journalist training centre funded by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

To make a donation, send a US$ money order or cheque to the CPPJ's offices; or send a US$ wire transfer to CCPJ c/o The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, 378 Queen Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada - Bank #010, Transit #01002, Account #0249718. Please send an email to ccpj@web.net confirming the amount and date sent.

FOR INFORMATION: contact CCPJ at 490 Adelaide Street West, Suite 205, Toronto, Ontario, MWV 1T2 Canada, tel: + 1 416 703 7034, email: ccpj@web.net, CCPJ Web page

© The Canadian Committee to Protect Journalists (ccpj@web.net)