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Tuesday, April 05, 2011

American Laments Injustice for 1997 Grenade Attack

A Phnom Penh resident is treated for wounds at Calmette Hospital he received during a mortar attack in the capital in the late afternoon on Saturday July 5,1997. Fighting broke out between troops loyal to the rival prime ministers and shellfire hit downtown areas.

While the US FBI has closed its investigation into a deadly grenade attack on an opposition rally 14 years ago, an American injured in the attack says he has not given up.

Ron Abney, the former head of the International Republican Institute in Cambodia, was the sole American injured among at least 150 others when unknown assailants threw a series of grenades into an opposition rally in Phnom Penh.

Sixteen people died in the attack, which took place on March 30, 1997.

In September 2010, Abney filed a complaint with the New York Attorney General’s office, claiming Prime Minister Hun Sen, who was visiting the state at the time, and his subordinates had obstructed justice during an ensuing FBI investigation of the attack. Hun Sen and his representatives have repeatedly declined to comment on the case.

“It’s about those families, the cane seller, Japanese photographer, and myself,” Abney told VOA Khmer in an interview, referring to those who were injured or killed. He called the attack “attempted murder.”

“It’s not about me,” he said. “It’s never been about me.”

However, it was Abney’s US citizenship that led to an FBI investigation. The FBI interviewed witnesses in and out of the presence of Cambodian officials, in sites from Cambodia, Thailand and the US, according to FBI documents released to VOA Khmer.

The FBI interviewed former bodyguards of Hun Sen, who was co-premier at the time, questioning them about their unusual deployment at the rally and accusations they had abetted the escape of the attackers.

No conclusive results came as a result of the investigation, which was later closed, and no one has ever been convicted for the attack. The FBI concluded that Abney was not the intended target.

Morton Sklar, Abney’s attorney for the New York suit, said in an email the criminal complaint was filed as “part of a larger effort that we have been engaged in to bring pressure on Hun Sen concerning his widespread human rights abuses, past and present.”

Hun Sen can invoke immunity as the head of state as long as he is in power, Sklar added.

Samrith Duonghak, a former journalist who was injured as he covered the 1997 rally, said in an interview recently he was not able to walk for two months after he was hit with shrapnel.

“Worse than my case, some people have lost their husbands and relatives,” he said. “Per rule of law, shall we continue with this culture of impunity?”

Abney, who returns to Cambodia regularly to maintain an orphanage he established here, said he too retains a painful memory of the attack. However, he said he is not afraid to pursue justice for it.

“They always tell me, if you miss the first time with a hand grenade, you’ll miss the second time too,” he said.

Hun Sen advisers contacted by VOA Khmer declined to comment on the case. Adviser Prak Sokhun said the case was out of date. In New York last year, adviser Sry Thamarong said Hun Sen’s administration would pay no heed to Abney’s suit.

In Cambodia, Abney said, there is little remembrance of the attack, which came during a turbulent time in Cambodian politics—and just ahead of the July 1997 coup that put Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party firmly in power.

However, each year the opposition Sam Rainsy Party commemorates the attack, which took place at the north end of Botum Vatey park, where a memorial to victims now stands.

Abney said the case has similarly fallen off the US radar.

“I’m going to have to do a lot of work,” he said. “Now that I’m back from Cambodia, I’ll try to get the legislature involved. So I’m going to work on that every day.”
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Helping Cambodia to become mine-free by 2020

The Cambodian government hopes to make the country mine-free by 2020. The goal can only be achieved with the help of other countries. Germany gives a million a year to a mine-clearing group that employs about 350 people.

A German Bundeswehr colonel is supervising the work of a team from the Cambodian Mine Action Center. Peter Willers is 70 years old. He has been in Cambodia since January 2008 and is proud of his job.

"Luckily, we haven't had an accident yet. And if you haven't had an accident over several years then people trust your abilities. So they are not worried," he says confidently.

The demining missions sometimes last for up to three weeks, during which families are left behind. But the wives and children of the members of the mine clearing teams are aware of the importance of their job.

"Of course, I'm a bit worried when my husband is working but it's his duty as well to clear the mines. For our country and also so that he can provide for our family," says one woman.

Discipline is the keyword
After decades of war and civil war, there are still tens of thousands of mines and unexploded ordnance devices all over Cambodia. The teams use hand-marked maps that show which areas have already been cleared. They then step extremely carefully in mined areas, using sheers to remove vegetation and metal detectors to locate mines.

"What's most important is discipline," says Willers. "Nobody can afford to take a short-cut. No-one can throw down their equipment in an area that has not been demined. Basically the path to success is to keep strictly to the rules."

When a mine is found there are certain rules to follow. The metal detector has located a Soviet mine that has probably been underground for over 20 years. The 150 grams of explosive could rip off a leg and many Cambodians have lost their legs to such mines.

"What's most important is not to press on the mine from above. This one would have exploded if it there had been a load of five kilos," explains one of the team members Sun Vey.

There are some 60 thousand mine victims in the country still. What's worse is that many people walk knowingly through minefields because there is simply no other route to get back home or to work.

Making agricultural land safe again
When mines are found they have to be set off so that they are no longer a danger. Willers' team alone destroys some 20,000 mines and unexploded ordnance devices every year.

For the villagers, the organized explosions are always a relief. "We're glad that we can finally use the land again," says mayor Seng Sek.

The cleared land will probably be turned into rice paddies after decades of disuse. The demining team members hope that their work will help make Cambodia mine-free by 2020.

Author: Klaus Bardenhagen/act
Editor: Thomas Bärthlein
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Phl eyeing to import rice from Cambodia, India and Pakistan

MANILA, Philippines (Xinhua) - The Philippine government is keen on sourcing this year's rice imports from Cambodia, India and Pakistan, a senior agriculture official said today.

National Food Authority Administrator Angelito T. Banayo disclosed that he is set to meet with the ambassador of Cambodia on Wednesday for a possible rice supply deal.

"These are just initial discussions. We could buy from (these countries) if the price is right," Banayo said.

The Philippines has an existing rice supply agreement with Vietnam for a maximum of 1.5 million tons of rice. The memorandum of agreement, which was recently renewed by the government, is in force until 2013, when the Philippines expects to be self sufficient in rice.

Just recently, the NFA announced that it bought 200,000 tons of rice from Vietnam under a government to government deal.

For 2011, the Philippines had announced that it will buy 860, 000 tons of milled rice although the figure may go up if local rice production for January to June will not meet the projected production increase of 15.3 percent.
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