French Court: ‘Sufficient Evidence’ of PM Bodyguards’ Role in 1997 Grenade Attack

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General Hing Bun Heang, in a photograph posted to the ruling CPP’s website.
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An investigating judge from the Paris Appeal Court has indicted Cambodian generals Huy Piseth and Hing Bun Heang, with court documents saying that there is “sufficient evidence” to bring charges against them for complicity to commit murder in relation to a fatal grenade attack at a public rally in 1997.

The court decision was made on December 30, and was revealed over the weekend by CNRP co-founder Sam Rainsy, who led the rally in 1997. The attack killed 16 people and wounded more than 100.

The 10-page document, as released by Rainsy’s lawyers, shows a court decision based on public testimonies and a previous FBI investigation into the attack. 

A source in the French judiciary confirmed the indictment of the two Cambodian generals, but said the courts were not yet authorized to release the document themselves.

Rainsy, who has French citizenship, and his wife Tioulong Saumura pressed charges in France in November 2000 for attempted murder.

Nearly 22 years later, the French court decision said “there exists sufficient evidence to believe that Hun Sen’s personal security brigade played a significant role” in the attack.

At the time, generals Piseth and Bun Heang were respectively chief and deputy chief of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Bodyguard Unit.

The judicial investigation found that the men “organized and implemented the execution of the bomb attack that occurred on March 30, 1997 in Phnom Penh, targeting Mr. Sam Rainsy,” the document says.

It also specifies the roles of the two defendants. “Piseth Huy deployed his men, heavily armed, wearing combat clothing. He gave instructions to stay in formation … in order to facilitate the  grenade throwers’ retreat toward the CPP’s military compound and to prevent anyone from pursuing them,” the document says. “Bun Heang recruited the men to perform the attack.”

The document includes a list of actors, reports and testimonies on which the court based its conclusions.

The list includes:

— Comments made by then-Phnom Penh police chief Heng Pov during an interview with a French newspaper, where Heng denounces the involvement of Piseth, saying that he had told the general he “recognized two officers from Hun Sen’s guard,” and that Piseth had told him “to stay quiet and to not tell anyone about it.”

— An interview with then-U.N. legal counsel Brad Adams, where he says then-Justice Minister Chem Snguon had told him the prime minister was “behind the attacks.”

— Elements from an FBI investigation that found Piseth’s subordinate, Major Chin Savon, was at the attacks.

— Elements from the same FBI report saying Piseth had indicated to the FBI that he received the order to deploy the bodyguard unit from the prime ministerial cabinet. According to the French court document, Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit “facilitated the escape of the grenade throwers, and prevented the ambulances from reaching those injured.”

— Further elements from the FBI report that three of the men who threw grenades had indicated to the FBI that they were recruited by Bun Heang.

The French court document adds that an arrest warrant against the two generals was issued in March 2020, and that it still remains in force.

The investigating judge, Sabine Kheris, also notes “the lack of cooperation from the Cambodian authorities all along the process of this judicial investigation.”

On several occasions during the 20-yearlong process, the French court summoned key witnesses to testify, including Hun Sen, Piseth and Bun Heang, but none of the court’s letters led to cooperation, it says.

The court once abandoned the case in 2006, but reopened it when Rainsy and Saumura brought new documents in 2011, including the testimony of former Phnom Penh police chief Heng Pov and declassified FBI materials.

“The different investigations led by the FBI, the U.N., the foreign relations committee of the American Senate, as well as the organization Human Rights Watch, conclude unanimously for the responsibility of Hun Sen’s close-knit guard in the grenade attack targeting Sam Rainsy,” the document says.

It is not yet known when the trial will start.

Bun Heang said over the weekend that he considered any allegations raised by Rainsy to be baseless.

“Wherever he files a complaint, I don’t get a headache. I have nothing to do with Sam Rainsy. I do not care about it. It has nothing to do with me and he accuse me stupidly. [Rainsy] sued me in France and I am Khmer. Why sue in France?  … Whatever the accusation is, because I do not know anything, [he] is just talking nonsense,” the general said.

Additional reporting by Khan Leakhena

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