Posted March 29, 2005: A Tragedy of No Importance
Detailed article and investigation on the grenade attack
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US Senate committee investigation

(A letter from from James P. Doran, Professional Staff Member for East Asian Affairs at the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, concludes that Hun Sen is culpable in the attack and criticizes the FBI and the US State Department.)

September 21, 1999

The Honorable Jesse Helms
Chairman, Committee on Foreign Relations

The Honorable Joseph Biden
Ranking Minority Member, Committee on Foreign Relations

Dear Senator Helms and Senator Biden:

Attached is a report on my two recent trips to Cambodia, in December, 1998 (Staffdel Doran) and July, 1999 (Staffdel Berkowitz/Doran).

The primary focus of the trips was the March 30, 1997 grenade attack in Cambodia, which injured an American citizen and which was investigated by the FBI. On the December, 1998 trip, I was accompanied by Paul Berkowitz and Joseph Rees of the House International Relations Committee. On the July, 1999 trip, I was accompanied by Paul Berkowitz and by Michael Westphal of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

To this day, the perpetrators of the grenade attack have not been identified. However, based on my analysis of the currently available evidence, which includes FBI reporting, press accounts, and numerous interviews in Cambodia, Thailand and the United States, my report reaches the following conclusions:

1) Members of Hun Sen's Bodyguard Force participated in the planning and execution of the March 30, 1997 attack.

2) Hun Sen, being only one of two people with authority over the Bodyguard Force, must have known and approved of the attack.

3) By June, 1997, the U.S. government was in possession of overwhelming evidence of conclusions #1 and #2 and has done nothing about it.

U.S. government passivity on this matter has had profoundly negative consequences for democracy in Cambodia, for today, Hun Sen once again holds unchallenged power in that unfortunate country. With U.S. government acquiescence, he has succeeded in completely overturning the results of the 1993 U.N. elections, and gained international recognition of this feat to boot. Part of this acquiescence has been the total unwillingness on the part of the U.S. government to confront Hun Sen with its evidence of his involvement in this bloody massacre.

The report details the evidence that leads me to these conclusions.


James P. Doran Professional Staff Member for East Asian Affairs

List of names that Appear in the Report

Hun Sen -- ex-Khmer Rouge soldier; part of Vietnamese-installed government in 1979; ruler of Cambodia since 1985

Prince Norodom Ranariddh -- winner of 1993 elections; co-premier with Hun Sen, 1993-1997

Sam Rainsy -- opposition politician; target of March 30, 1997 grenade attack

Ron Abney -- American citizen injured in attack

General Huy Pised -- Commander of Hun Sen's Bodyguard Force

Him Bun Heang -- assistant to General Pised

Major Chhin Savon -- on-scene commander of Bodyguard Forces at March 30 rally

Mok Chito -- Commander of Phnom Penh Municipal Police Force; nephew of Hun Sen

Sar Kheng -- Interior Minister from Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP)

General Teng Savon -- Commander of Investigative Commission on the attack (CPP)

Brazil -- a codename for a major suspect in the case

General Nhiek Bun Chhay -- former deputy chief of Cambodian armed forces who briefly held Brazil in custody

Chhay Vee -- Cambodian who confessed to participating in the crime, then recanted

Chom Bun Theun -- accomplice of Chhay Vee

Kun Kim -- vice-governor of Kandal province; close associate of Hun Sen

I. Introduction

On March 30, 1997, Cambodia was rocked by a bloody grenade attack at a political rally organized by opposition politician Sam Rainsy. Shortly after the rally began, at approximately 8:30 am, unidentified attackers tossed four hand grenades into the crowd, killing at least sixteen people and injuring over 150.

Sam Rainsy, the apparent target of the attack, was not injured, though his personal bodyguard was killed in the blast. Also injured in the attack was American citizen Ron Abney, of Cochran, Georgia. Abney, an employee of the International Republican Institute who was accompanying Rainsy, received shrapnel wounds in the leg and hip.

Rainsy immediately blamed then-Second Prime Minister Hun Sen for the attack. Hun Sen initially blamed the Khmer Rouge, but subsequently accused Rainsy of staging the attack on himself. Shortly afterwards, a Cambodian government commission was formed to investigate the incident. The injury to Abney, as well as an invitation from the Cambodian government, led to FBI involvement in the investigation.

To date, no one has been brought to justice for this crime. The actual grenade throwers remain unidentified, as do the ultimate masterminds. However, it is my opinion that sufficient evidence exists in order to yield a very obvious conclusion: Hun Sen and his Bodyguard Forces were behind this crime.

In this report, this assertion will be demonstrated by summarizing all of the known publicly-available information on this matter. To date, no single document has culled together all of the available information, nor has the information been widely disseminated.

The large majority of information presented in this report will come from three sources: 1) The unclassified FBI report to Congress, delivered to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on November 24, 1998; 2) A February 19, 1999 FBI letter to Senator Jesse Helms and Congressmen Benjamin Gilman, Christopher Smith and Dana Rohrabacher; 3) A report by a Cambodian police official written in May, 1997. The texts of these three documents appear at the end of this report as appendices.

(Note: The Cambodian police report appears to be haphazard and unprofessionally written, in part due to poor translation into English. However, the report is almost wholly congruent with and substantiates the information from the FBI and other sources. The redactions in the Cambodian police report are to protect the names of witnesses and FBI agents.)

The remaining information in this staff report is from press accounts or interviews with various participants in this matter, including victims, Cambodian officials, human rights activists and journalists. This investigation entailed two trips to Cambodia and Thailand, in December, 1998 (Staffdel Doran) and July, 1999 (Staffdel Berkowitz/Doran).

As a caveat, it should be stated that there may or may not currently be sufficient prosecutorial evidence against Hun Sen or any of his subordinates. However, the three documents summarized and presented in this report speak for themselves. Readers should find that this evidence, viewed against the backdrop of Hun Sen's well-known history of resorting to violence against his political opponents, yields a common sense conclusion that Hun Sen in fact bears ultimate responsibility for this act of terrorism.

Prior to presenting the evidence in this case, a bit of background is necessary.

II. Background

Cambodian Political Situation

At the time of the March 30, 1997 rally, Cambodia was ruled by a coalition government, with power nominally shared by the (formerly Communist) Cambodian People's Party (CPP), the royalist FUNCINPEC party and the Son Sann Party. The CPP is led by then-Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, while FUNCINPEC is led by then-First Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh.

The titles were deceiving, however, as Hun Sen and the CPP were clearly the dominant force in the government. The CPP is a derivative of the Kampuchean Revolutionary Party (KRP) that was installed in power in 1979 by invading Vietnamese forces. Vietnam, the KRP/CPP and Hun Sen ruled Cambodia with an iron fist throughout the 1980s, while royalist, democratic and Khmer Rouge forces waged a guerilla war against the government.

In 1989, Vietnamese forces evacuated Cambodia, leaving Hun Sen and the CPP in charge. In 1991, the Hun Sen government and the opposition signed the Paris Peace Accords, which paved the way for UN-supervised elections in 1993. Prince Ranariddh, FUNCINPEC and its allies emerged victorious from those elections, garnering 62% of the vote. Although his party received only 38% of the vote, Hun Sen refused to yield power and threatened to use his control of the military to start a civil war. With the United Nations blinking, Ranariddh was forced to allow the CPP into a coalition.

The coalition was a paper one at best. Hun Sen and the CPP continued to control, as they had since 1979, the real source of power in Cambodia: guns. Under the coalition, the CPP retained true control of the ministries of defense and interior. Hun Sen has also maintained a personal bodyguard force of as many as 2,500 men. These bodyguards have long been noted for their thuggishness, violence and unaccountability. They will also appear later in this report.

The first finance minister in the coalition was Sam Rainsy, then a member of FUNCINPEC. Rainsy's aggressive moves to root out corruption in the Cambodian government strained his relations with both Hun Sen and Ranariddh, resulting in his dismissal in October 1994. Shortly thereafter, Rainsy formed the Khmer Nation Party and quickly became the most ardent oppositionist in Cambodia. To this day he remains uncompromising in his opposition to Hun Sen's rule. The rally Rainsy organized for March 30, 1997 was in protest of the corruption and politicization of the judiciary in Cambodia.

On July 4, 1997, Hun Sen ended all pretense of a coalition government by launching a coup in which Ranariddh and FUNCINPEC were ejected from the government by force. Ranariddh and his top lieutenants fled the country and over 100 FUNCINPEC members and supporters were killed by Hun Sen's forces in the aftermath. In early 1998, a Japanese plan was adopted that allowed for the return of Ranariddh and Rainsy to Cambodia to participate in new elections, which took place on July 26. After nearly four months of wrangling over the election results, a new government was formed on November 13, 1998 in which Hun Sen emerged as sole prime minister. Ranariddh became speaker of the parliament, a few lesser cabinet posts were given to members of FUNCINPEC and Rainsy assumed an opposition role in the parliament.

U.S. Congressional Developments

In October, 1997, the president signed Public Law 105-118, the Foreign Operations Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 1998. One provision of that act was a requirement for the president to report to Congress on the status of the FBI investigation of the Cambodian grenade attack. Although the report was due within thirty days of enactment, it was not delivered to the respective Committees on Appropriations until April 27, 1998, in classified form.

In late August, an additional copy of the classified report was delivered to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. On September 1, 1998, Senator Jesse Helms, Chairman of the committee, wrote to the president requesting declassification of the entire report. The declassified report, which is merely a much abridged and slightly updated version of the original, was hand delivered by the FBI to the committee on November 24, 1998.

Viewing the declassified report as inadequate, Senator Helms, Congressmen Benjamin Gilman, Christopher Smith and Dana Rohrabacher wrote a letter asking twenty questions to FBI Director Louis Freeh on January 25, 1999. The return letter from the FBI was delivered on February 19, 1999.

III. The Facts in the Case

The following facts in this case are not in dispute, though they are only grudgingly admitted by FBI officials and have not been disseminated widely in the United States or even on Capitol Hill.

1. Responsibility for security at the rally rested with the Phnom Penh Municipal Police Force (PPMPF). At that time PPMPF was headed by Mok Chito, a nephew of Hun Sen.

2.There was an unusually light police presence at the rally just before it began. Among the officers present was Mok Chito, who was videotaped at the scene.

3.After what appeared to be a prearranged signal, police officers retreated from the scene and four squads of Hun Sen's "Bodyguard Force" (2nd Battalion, 17th Regiment, or "Unit #2") deployed in a linear position along the western boundary of the park where the rally was being held.

4.Military units such as the Bodyguard Force typically had not been deployed at civilian political rallies in Cambodia and had not been deployed at any of the previous fourteen Khmer Nation Party rallies.

5.After the attackers threw their grenades, at least two of them escaped on foot, through the line of the Bodyguard Forces and toward a nearby CPP compound.

6.CPP officials and the leaders of the Bodyguard Force were uncooperative in the investigation. For instance:

Investigation Commission Commander Teng Savon, a CPP member, refused to make Mok Chito, the police chief and Hun Sen's nephew, available for interview by the FBI;

Bodyguard Force Commanding General Huy Pised denied seeing anything that morning and is described by the FBI as only having been "moderately cooperative" in the investigation;

Major Chhin Savon, on-scene commander of the Bodyguard Forces at the rally, also denied seeing anything and is described by the FBI as having been "uncooperative" in the investigation;

CPP Interior Minister Sar Kheng refused an FBI request to interview a suspect called "Brazil."

7.Bodyguard Force Unit #2 can only be ordered to deploy by Huy Pised or Hun Sen himself. (Pised stated on several occasions that he received an order to deploy; on one occasion he stated that the order came from Hun Sen's "cabinet.")

Simply based on these undisputed facts, it is already difficult to conclude other than that Hun Sen ordered this attack. But there is still more information to bolster the case.

A Confession

In early June, 1998, two men, Chhay Vee and Chom Bun Theun, came forward and confessed to participating in the attack. They first made a videotaped confession to representatives of the Sam Rainsy Party, stating that Him Bun Heang, an assistant to Bodyguard Force Commander Pised, had offered them money to participate in an attack on Rainsy. The two men claimed that they were coming forward at that point because they feared Hun Sen's Bodyguards would kill them for failing in their mission.

In February, 1999, this videotape was viewed on Capitol Hill in the presence of two Cambodian-Americans who provided translation. When the translators were asked to judge the veracity of the two suspects, each independently replied that both Chhay Vee and Chom Bun Theun appeared credible and seemed genuinely to fear for their lives. Chhay Vee and Chom Bun Theun next confessed to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Phnom Penh and on June 4, 1997 were brought by Rainsy to the FBI in Bangkok, where they made a similar confession.

A Suspect Called "Brazil"

According to the FBI report, a major suspect in the case was an unidentified man codenamed "Brazil." For a brief period of time in June, 1997, Brazil was in the custody of FUNCINPEC General Nhiek Bun Chhay. During that time, General Bun Chhay conducted a videotaped interview of Brazil and provided a copy of the tape and related documents to the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh. The FBI confirms that it received a copy of a videotape and a purported statement by Brazil. Brazil escaped from custody in early July, 1997, possibly in the chaos of Hun Sen's coup and his current whereabouts are unknown, according to the FBI.

When Staffdel Doran interviewed General Nhiek Bun Chhay in Bangkok in December 1998, he reported that Brazil's story was essentially the same as that of Chhay Vee and Chom Bun Theun: Hun Sen's Bodyguard Forces hired him to participate in the attack on Rainsy. Brazil also told General Bun Chhay that he worked with Chhay Vee and Chom Bon Theun in planning the attack, which Brazil said was his third attempt to kill Rainsy.

More Substantiation: The May, 1997 Cambodian Police Report

According to the May, 1997 Cambodian police report, the FBI agent-in-charge was quoted during a meeting as saying: "Those men who threw the grenades are not ordinary people. They are Hun Sen's soldiers." The agent based this assertion on several pieces of evidence, including that reliable witnesses reported that the first thrower looked at the Bodyguard soldiers before he tossed his grenade, the bodyguards were deployed in linear fashion to defend the CPP compound, and the guards at the gate of the compound opened the gate to allow the perpetrators to enter.

The FBI denies that one of its agents ever made this statement. However, the Cambodian police report is consistent with a June 29, 1997 Washington Post story, which reported that the preliminary, classified FBI report also fingered Hun Sen's Bodyguard Forces, citing four U.S. government officials familiar with its contents.

The Cambodian police report is replete with eyewitness accounts of how the perpetrators ran toward the CPP compound, aided and abetted by Hun Sen's Bodyguard Forces, who not only allowed the attackers through their line, but also prevented Rainsy supporters from pursuing the attackers.

The report further elaborates on the lack of cooperation in the investigation by Hun Sen's lieutenants. For instance, one passage notes that much time was wasted at an April 26 meeting because Teng Savon (the CPP Investigative Head) persisted in attacking Rainsy. Another account recalls how on May 8 Huy Pised ordered Chhin Savon (the on-scene Bodyguard Commander) to stop talking to the FBI as Chhin Savon began to provide details of how his men were deployed. On another occasion, Him Bun Heang, the assistant to Huy Pised, interrupted and tried to silence Pised during an interview with the FBI just as Pised was about to say exactly who ordered him to deploy his men the morning of March 30.

The report also contains an accounting of how two of the perpetrators may have been escorted away from the crime scene by associates of Hun Sen. According to the report, at approximately 2 p.m. the day of the attack, a helicopter landed near Chea Sim park in Phnom Penh. The park is very close to where the grenade attack took place. Awaiting the helicopter were several Toyota Landcruisers, in one of which Him Bun Heang was seen with two men who looked like suspects. This is the same Him Bun Heang who tried to silence Huy Pised in an FBI interview and whom Chhay Vee and Chom Bun Theun confessed had recruited them for the attack. After the chopper landed, the two suspects boarded the helicopter with Kun Kim, the Vice Governor of Kandal province and a close associate of Hun Sen.

The helicopter incident is not addressed in the FBI report, and in response to a congressional query on the matter, the FBI stated that Teng Savon had informed them that the reports were untrue. One is left to believe that the FBI accepts Teng Savon's assurances. While further corroboration of the helicopter incident has not been uncovered, a simple denial from Teng Savon is hardly the last word on the matter, given the aforementioned instances of his lack of cooperation in the investigation.

The information above provides compelling evidence of the Bodyguard Force's and Hun Sen's involvement in the grenade attack on Sam Rainsy. Absent a credible alternative theory, the evidence of Hun Sen's complicity is overwhelming.

Alternative Theories

Only a few alternative theories have been adduced in this case. All are unsupported by evidence. The first alternative theory, put forth in the immediate aftermath of the attack by Hun Sen, is that Sam Rainsy staged this attack on himself. Other than Hun Sen saying so and an indiscrete sentence in the FBI report, there is not a single shred of evidence to support this charge. In fact, the FBI was given a chance to provide evidence of this theory but pointedly declined to do so.

In their letter to Director Freeh, Senator Helms and Congressmen Gilman, Smith and Rohrabacher asked the following question:

"On page nine, the report states that Rainsy became agitated when the FBI informed him that "there were genuine questions about the allegations and motives of the grenade throwers."

What were those questions? Was this an insinuation that Rainsy was somehow involved in the attack? Why is there no elaboration on this in the report?

The FBI's response was as follows:

"Those are not the words of the CA (Case Agent) and do not appear in the report."

When the Senate Foreign Relations Committee received this reply from the FBI, the report was double-checked to see if it had been misread. It was not. The quotation in the question appears on page nine, paragraph four, lines four and five of the FBI report (Appendix 1). Since the FBI declined to answer this question forthrightly, one must conclude that they are not in possession of any evidence that Rainsy was involved in the attack.

Sam Rainsy's personal bodyguard died in this massacre. His good friend Ron Abney was seriously wounded. It is simply not credible to claim that this man, who by all accounts except Hun Sen's is not violent, committed this crime.

Another theory is that the attack was an inside job, perpetrated by someone in Rainsy's party. This theory was put forth by former U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia, Ken Quinn, in a meeting with Staffdel Berkowitz/Doran on July 5, 1999. With considerable enthusiasm, Ambassador Quinn mentioned that the French government was interested in a Sam Rainsy Party member named In Thaddee, a dual French-Cambodian citizen. Ambassador Quinn further commented that In Thaddee had Khmer Rouge family connections and had a history of being around violence.

Staffdel Berkowitz/Doran met with In Thaddee on July 6, 1999. He struck the delegation as highly educated and articulate. When asked point blank about "rumors" that he was a possible suspect in the case, Thaddee was very open and direct. He informed the delegation that these were not new rumors; he was in fact mentioned as a suspect in the Phnom Penh Post just after the attack and was subsequently questioned by the French government.

Thaddee seemed amused that this story was still around, stating that he had not heard it in two years and had not been questioned by the French or Cambodian governments since just after the attack. Thaddee was also very open about his Khmer Rouge family connections. His uncle was a Khmer Rouge officer, but this has not prevented Thaddee from voicing support for a tribunal to bring the Khmer Rouge to justice.

For his part, Sam Rainsy regards the In Thaddee theory as ridiculous. Since neither the FBI nor any other source has even mentioned this theory in the course of this investigation, it is evident that this theory holds no water whatsoever.

Other theories are that the Khmer Rouge were responsible (certain members of the CPP have put forth this view) and that someone staged the attack to make it look like Hun Sen and/or the CPP did it (this was also voiced by Ambassador Quinn on July 5). Neither of these theories seems plausible. The Khmer Rouge were waning in numbers and power by March, 1997 and have never been noted for urban terrorism. Staging an attack in order to frame someone else requires resources that simply are not available to people not in power in Cambodia, and the power in Cambodia has been held by Hun Sen and the CPP for twenty years. In any case, no evidence has been adduced to substantiate either one of these theories.

IV. The Role of the U.S. Government

As stated in the introduction, neither the State Department nor the FBI have been very forthcoming with Congress, Sam Rainsy or the public on this matter.

The FBI's Investigation: Shoddy, or Just Half-Hearted?

Two and one-half years after this attack, the FBI still has not identified a suspect in this case. While this may not be unusual, the FBI also refuses, both in its report and in briefings to Congress, to analyze any of its findings or suggest where the findings might be leading. In a briefing to Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff in February 1999, FBI officials declined to guess as to who might have been behind the attack and seemed to suggest that there was equal validity to competing theories of the crime.

As demonstrated above, this is an intellectually untenable position (unless the FBI has withheld from Congress evidence that substantiates any alternative theories). Also as has been demonstrated, the FBI was in possession of sufficient evidence by the end of May, 1997 to reasonably, if not legally, conclude Hun Sen's guilt. The FBI has also had over a year in which to judge the veracity of Chhay Vee's and Chom Bun Theun's June, 1998 confession, but has not done so. It is difficult to believe the FBI does not by this time have a reasonable guess as to who committed this attack.

Still, the main concern with the FBI's role in this case rests not with its inability or unwillingness to name or arrest a suspect. The FBI does deal in the legal realm, and may not possess enough evidence to prosecute Hun Sen or anyone else. The foremost concern, rather, is over the seemingly sloppy and indifferent approach the FBI has taken toward this entire investigation, at least since June, 1997.

The Chhay Vee/Chom Bun Theun Fiasco

The most egregious example of this is the FBI's handling of the Chhay Vee/Chom Bun Theun confession. As noted above, the FBI interviewed these men in Bangkok on June 4, 1998, during which they confessed to participating in the grenade attack under the employ of Him Bun Heang, one of Hun Sen's Bodyguards. This confession is described on page 12 of the FBI report.

However, in the next paragraph, the FBI recounts how in a November 13, 1998 re-interview, Chhay Vee and Chom Bun Theun had changed their story and denied any involvement in the attack. Furthermore, the two men charged that they only confessed in June because a Sam Rainsy Party official paid them $15,000 each. Without further elaboration or substantiation, the FBI report ends with this paragraph, leaving the reader with the impression that the FBI accepts Chhay Vee's and Chom Bun Theun's recantation rather than their original confession.

Incredibly, the FBI omitted from the report the fact that Chhay Vee and Chom Bun Theun were taken into custody by Hun Sen's police in August, 1998. Obviously, Hun Sen's police had gotten a chance to work these two men over. When questioned on this matter (questions 12 and 13 of the Helms letter), the FBI made still more unbelievable revelations. It turns out that the FBI's November 13 re-interview, in which the suspects recanted and blamed Rainsy, took place in the private home of Om Yentieng, an advisor to Hun Sen.

Moreover, the FBI admits in the letter that it was aware of reports that Chhay Vee and Chom Bun Theun had been in police custody, but deemed that fact irrelevant! When queried further on this matter by Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff in February, 1999, the FBI would not acknowledge that their approach to this aspect of the case was flawed, clinging to a "all theories are equally valid" defense.

It is absolutely astonishing that the FBI would ignore the fact that the suspects had been in the custody of Hun Sen's police, allow the interview to take place in the presence of an advisor to Hun Sen, and omit this critical information from the report. While the June, 1998 confession by these men may not be conclusive, it is more believable than the November, 1998 recantation, which is undeniably tainted.

It is difficult to believe that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the world's premier law enforcement agency, is incompetent. Could the FBI really believe that Chhay Vee's and Chom Bun Theun's arrest by Hun Sen's henchmen was irrelevant? Could the FBI not know who Om Yentieng was? According to a journalist with long experience in Cambodia, Om Yentieng is well-known as one of Hun Sen's chief thugs.

Staffdel Berkowitz/Doran met with Om Yentieng on July 5, 1999 to discuss the grenade attack, where he made several implausible statements to the delegation. Om informed the delegation that he is conducting his own investigation into the attack and would soon issue a report. When the delegation inquired as to how his investigation was proceeding, Om replied that in order to get more concrete results, he needed more cooperation from Sam Rainsy. To anyone familiar with this case, this is not a credible statement, as no one has pushed harder for continued investigation into this matter than Sam Rainsy.

Om also stated that the suspect Brazil was alive and his whereabouts were known to the government of Cambodia. As mentioned previously, the FBI has no information on the whereabouts of Brazil and every other person queried about Brazil believes he is dead. When Om was pressed for Brazil's whereabouts or whether he was in custody or under surveillance, Om became evasive. When asked if he planned to interview Brazil before he issued his report on the grenade attack, Om replied negatively, stating that Brazil was a "secondary" matter. Of course, Brazil, if alive, is the key to the whole investigation.

All of this strains credulity and the FBI's collusion with a man so lacking in credibility as Om Yentieng seriously calls into question the Bureau's commitment to get to the bottom of this matter.

On-again, Off-again, and Mostly Off

There are other examples of FBI shortcomings in this investigation. For instance, until the November, 1998 report was issued, Congress had been led to believe that the investigation was ongoing. The last sentence in the report, however, says "All investigative leads are complete. The FBI has presented its investigative findings to the Department of Justice for a prosecutive opinion." (Recall that in the February, 1999 briefing, FBI officials asserted that they could not hazard a guess as to the identity of the culprits.)

Then, on January 25, 1999, just after the Helms letter was faxed to the FBI, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was informed by phone that the investigation was indeed still ongoing, and that agents would be going back to Cambodia to conduct some polygraphs. As of this writing, the Committee has not been informed by the FBI as to whether those polygraphs have been conducted, despite repeated inquiries and a written commitment by the FBI to keep the Committee informed of any new developments. Ambassador Quinn did inform Staffdel Berkowitz/Doran on July 5, however, that the FBI was in Cambodia in May, 1999 to conduct more interviews, re-interviews and polygraphs.

It seems as though this investigation is on-again, off-again, depending on who and when one asks. In truth, however, very little has been done on this investigation since the summer of 1997. One possible reason for this is that Ambassador Quinn informed the FBI agents that they had been targeted for attack and could not be protected, thus prompting their departure from Cambodia in June, 1997.

But this argument only goes so far. For starters, with so many Cambodians in exile in Thailand during late 1997 and 1998, many people, including General Nhiek Bun Chhay, could have been interviewed there. Also, the situation in Cambodia pacified in early 1998. Yet only one FBI interview was conducted in Cambodia (in Hun Sen's camp) over the two-year period from June 1997-May 1999. Lastly, many interviewees flatly reject the notion that the FBI agents' lives were in danger. One interviewee, an American who lived in Cambodia for many years, stated that he and his group had been "threatened" many times by the Khmer Rouge, but it was well understood that most of these threats were just bluster.

A question beyond the scope of this inquiry remains: Why was the FBI investigation essentially stopped in its tracks in the summer of 1997?

The State Department: Denial as Policy

For the most part, State Department officials in Washington and Phnom Penh plead ignorance of the investigation into the attack and refer questions to the FBI. For example, in answer to a question about the attack at a February 24, 1999 hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary Albright replied that all such questions should be directed to the FBI. When asked by Staffdel Doran in December, 1998 to hazard a guess as to who was behind the attack, the Deputy Chief of Mission at Embassy Phnom Penh could not answer, stating that in Cambodia, a lot of grenades go off. The DCM also stated that the State Department had very little role in the investigation.

Yes, grenades do go off in Cambodia, but the State Department did not have a little role in this investigation. According to the FBI report, Ambassador Quinn was aware of all 56 interviews conducted by the FBI while they were in Cambodia and participated in many of the meetings. The June, 1998 confession by Chhay Vee and Chom Bun Theun took place in the U.S. embassy in Bangkok. The November re-interview was conducted by our Bangkok-based Legal Attache and the security officer from our embassy in Phnom Penh. The Cambodia desk in Washington was also aware of the contents of the original classified FBI report.

Again, the bulk of the FBI's findings were known by June, 1997. The undisputed facts listed in section III of this report were known to the State Department by that time. Yet during the intervening two years, the State Department has continued to do business with Hun Sen. According to one source with specialized knowledge of Cambodia, one reason the State Department did not want to press the issue too far in the April-June, 1997 period was that it did not want to destabilize the fragile coalition in Cambodia at the time. Of course, it was Hun Sen who powerfully destabilized that coalition with his bloody July 4 coup.

Possessing such overwhelming evidence that Hun Sen and his Bodyguard Force were behind this attack, a legitimate course of action would have been to recall our Ambassador and downgrade relations with Phnom Penh until Hun Sen left or was removed from the scene. Instead, the State Department acceded to the Japanese plan to allow Hun Sen to stage elections in July, 1998, tried to confirm a new ambassador to Cambodia before the elections, and offered no support whatsoever to Ranariddh and Rainsy in the autumn of 1998 as they protested Hun Sen's faulty elections.


This report has attempted to present only the facts. These include undisputed facts, indisputable facts and, in a few cases, allegations that have at least some corroboration. They lead to three inescapable conclusions:

1) Members of Hun Sen's Bodyguard Force participated in the planning and execution of the March 30, 1997 attack.

2) Hun Sen, being only one of two people with authority over the Bodyguard Force, must have known and approved of the attack.

3) By June, 1997, the U.S. government was in possession of overwhelming evidence of conclusions #1 and #2 and has done nothing about it.

Today, Hun Sen once again holds unchallenged power in Cambodia. With U.S. government acquiescence, he has succeeded in completely overturning the results of the 1993 U.N. elections, and gained international recognition of this feat to boot. Part of this acquiescence has been the total unwillingness on the part of the U.S. government to confront Hun Sen with its evidence of his involvement in this bloody massacre.

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