An article from the City Times, published shortly before the July 26, 1998 elections in Cambodia.
By Richard S. Ehrlich
Asia Correspondent, The City Times
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- The US State Department and American Ambassador angrily denied allegations that they are blocking an FBI investigation into a deadly bombing in Cambodia which killed more than 20 people and injured 100, including one American.
Former finance minister Sam Rainsy, who hopes to win Sunday's election to become the next prime minister, sparked the feud after claiming the State Department and American Ambassador to Cambodia, Kenneth Quinn, pressured the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) because the bombing case allegedly incriminates Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Rainsy said he recently delivered to the FBI a fugitive who confessed to throwing the handgrenade, and the new confession was now being covered up.
Rainsy said Hun Sen must be investigated for these and other alleged murders, plus drug trafficking, and the pocketing of "500 million" US dollars during his corrupt reign.
Hun Sen, who is currently hospitalized after a Friday night appendix operation, has consistently denied similar allegations in the past as a plot to smear him.
When asked to respond to Rainsy's charges, Ambassador Quinn patched through a telephone call from Phnom Penh to Washington, so State Department Assistant Secretary Stanley Roth could reply.
In the telephone interview, conducted in the pre-dawn hours of Monday morning Eastern Daylight Time, Roth said Rainsy's allegations were "absolute nonsense."
Roth said, "I don't like to see attacks on the US State Department, or Ambassador Quinn, for political purposes."
Referring to the FBI's examination of witnesses and evidence from the March 30, 1997 grenade attack in Phnom Penh, Roth added, "I would like nothing better than to find out who did it.
"This is an ongoing investigation. The FBI is handling that, with no advice or hint on what to do" from the State Department, Roth said.
Asked about the content of the FBI's interview with the alleged bomber, Roth replied, "I have no idea. I don't know what he said. This interview was on June 4."
Roth added, "It was on Quinn's initiative that this person was brought to the FBI. It is exasperating when the US takes the lead in bringing something to the FBI, that the US gets criticized.
"It is an FBI investigation because of American interest," resulting from injuries suffered by a US citizen in the attack, Roth said.
Rainsy described the grenade assault as an assassination attempt against himself, which missed, and killed and injured people in a crowd he was addressing in a small park in central Phnom Penh.
Rainsy also charged that Quinn placed a "block" against the FBI investigation, because it would mar the last months of Quinn's diplomatic assignment here, in which the envoy attempted to maintain good relations with Hun Sen.
In a three-hour interview on Monday, an outraged Quinn said, "I would challenge anyone to produce any evidence or indication that I, or my embassy, ever took any action to influence the FBI investigation in any direction."
An embassy spokesman added, "FBI headquarters in Washington has acknowledged in writing that this has never occurred, and that the ambassador and his embassy have provided all assistance the FBI requested."
The squabble among Roth, Quinn and Rainsy over the FBI investigation began when the elegantly dressed, thin, bespectacled Rainsy made the remarks on Sunday during a 90-minute, taped interview on the campaign trail.
While speeding south on Highway Five in a white Landrover from a campaign rally in Kompong Chhnang back to the capital, Phnom Penh, Rainsy said, "I have sent people, working under my instruction, directly under my instruction, to provide further evidence of Hun Sen's involvement in the grenade attack to the FBI.
"One of the perpetrators, I brought to the FBI. The person himself," Rainsy added.
"He threw the grenade, and he looks exactly like the sketch produced by the FBI.
"And I'm afraid that the FBI is under political pressure not to react."
Asked what pressure, Rainsy replied, "By the State Department, not to make public any conclusion, because this would create a lot of problems for bilateral relations between the present Phnom Penh government and Washington.
"I deplore this attitude, because I think investigations should be above politics.
"And I regret that the American administration has put political consideration above justice, and serious investigation to render justice to innocent victims."
Rainsy said, "I think the FBI has now enough information, enough evidence, about Hun Sen's involvement, because the guy was Hun Sen's bodyguard and he told the FBI, as he told me, that he took orders directly from the head of Hun Sen's bodyguard unit."
After questioning the alleged killer, the FBI released him, Rainsy said.
"The FBI could have no authority to arrest him in Bangkok. And I have made promise to the guy that he would not be arrested, otherwise he would not accept to come to Bangkok.
"Because no authorities can arrest him, (not) the FBI, because the FBI is in a third country. How can the FBI in Thailand arrest a Cambodian citizen involved in a crime committed in Cambodia?
"It was just to exchange information so that the FBI has, at least, more information."
Rainsy quoted an FBI official who was "entitled to speak on behalf of the FBI," who allegedly revealed a disturbing plot.
"He said, 'I cannot do what I want. I cannot say what I want. I cannot conduct my investigation the way I want because I am under pressure'."
Rainsy insisted this FBI official blamed the "foreign relationship between two countries. If it was in America, there would not be that kind of problem," the former finance minister said.
Rainsy deduced, "So, pressure because of bilateral relationship between two countries? It can only be the State Department.
"I asked him in the United States would you be submitted to the same pressure? And he said, 'No, in the United States we do our job properly, but here in your country, in Cambodia, I cannot do my job properly'."
Rainsy also blasted Ambassador Quinn's role in the FBI case.
"He is noncommittal, and non-cooperative, regarding this.
"He does not want to be involved, because it would complicate his work. He wants to have good relationship with everybody in Cambodia including with Hun Sen, especially with Hun Sen.
"So if he pushes for this investigation leading to Hun Sen being pointed out as behind the murder, I think he (Quinn) would look very bad, because why has he entertained such a good relationship, for such a long time, with such a criminal?
"So that is why he has to minimize all these stories, and why he has to block this investigation."
Rainsy added, "Regarding the grenade attack of 30th of March 1997, Hun Sen's bodyguards were found directly involved in the grenade attack. And knowing the system in Cambodia, nobody would take such an initiative without at least the consent, not to say under the direct order, of Hun Sen."
Rainsy also condemned Hun Sen, who began in politics as a communist, for allegedly dealing with Cambodian and foreign criminals.
"Hun Sen needs the financial support of the mafia. The communists, they are not good financial and economic managers.
"They have the political power which they use in a discretionary, arbitrary manner, and which they use to support the mafia, to give exclusive economic rights to the mafia. And in return, the mafia provides them with economic support."
Asked if Rainsy would investigate and charge Hun Sen with illegal activity if Rainsy wins Sunday's election, he replied, "Investigate, at least investigate. And if it is appropriate, and if the court finds enough evidence, he must be prosecuted accordingly.
"I would mention the extrajudicial executions, and many politically motivated killings and crimes. So at least we should start a serious investigation regarding these hundreds of crimes."
Next document: Report on the FBI's Investigation
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