Working Together as a Nation for the Safety and Security of Our People
The tragic deaths of our people leave our bodies numb. However, action must be taken for those who survived the tragedy and for the children who are now orphans. As a lawmaker, I will join my colleagues and many others in ensuring that an independent investigation will be conducted and the truth be told. Most important of all, that our people can depend on a safety and security system that is competent and trustworthy. Most of all, that there shall be no more repeat of the tragedy of 22/11.
Thousands attended the annual three-day water festival on Koh Pich, located outside Phnom Penh. Most of the people were from the countryside, making their annual visit to the city of Phnom Penh to celebrate the festival, one of the most popular in Cambodia. Hundreds of people crossed a bridge over to the mainland when a stampede formed, crushing at least 385 people to death- the number is increasing days after the tragedy occured- and causing severe injuries to hundreds of others. The majority of the victims were women from rural provinces outside the capital. Their souls are still wth us and will be with us till the truth is told.
We will remember the terror of those who were trapped on the bridge, the horror of the survivors who had to let go off the hands of their children, sisters and brothers – as they were trying to grasp for air. We will remember the rows of bodies covered in white cloth, the cries of the families while searching for their loved lones. We will never forget.
Safety and Security – A System that can be trusted by the people
The Ministry of Interior should make public its policy on public safety and security in times of peace and in emergencies.
According to experts, there are clear standards and measures to control a crowd and to prevent panic and stampedes. The questions we need to ask the Ministry of Interior and the Phnom Penh Governor are: what are the full details of the plan for safety and security of the public? Was there a contengency plan for crises?. Furthremore, we need to know the experience and expertise of police officers on crowd dynamics. We also need to know, how information was passed on to the high ranking officials when the crowd surpassed the capacity limit on the bridge and on the premises of the entertainment facilities on the island. And where were these high ranking officials to guide the security police assigned to the Koh Pich? What are the details of the arrangements made between the governor of Phnom Penh and the owner of those facilities? What insurance plan covers liabilities on the island, a private facility used for public events?
Witnesses and survivors of the 22/11 stampede speak of police using water hoses against the crowd that caused further panic. When approach to crowd control is the use of force for crack-down – same measures taken in the past to crack-down demonstrators – the people then become the ” enemies” and not human beings. There is a very serious need to review the approach to train police on crowd control. Many nations have offered assistance. The government of Cambodia should seize it.
In order to have checks and balances in the search for the causes of the Koh Pich tragedy , there should be true independent and a by-partisan parliamentarian committee, a committee by civil society and concerned citizens, to investigate all causes that have now left Cambodia in a state of uncertainty and deep grief. High ranking officials of the Minsitry of Interior should not be part of the government investigation committee as they were the ones in charge of the water festival events and negligence occured. There should be a committee formed by the families of the victims and survivors, to conduct their own investigation and to formulate their request for fair and just compensation from the company that owns Koh Pich. All testimonies collected by any investigation committee should be public records and the protection and safety of all those who are coming forward with information that holds the key to the truth should be ensured.
Compensations to the families of the victims and to the survivors are not enough to let the souls of our sisters and brothers to move on in peace, there need to be courage from those in charge to face the responsibility and accountability which come with the position they each hold.
We pay respect to all police officers, medics, and civilians who showed true courage and heroism in saving lives.
We continue to be with the families of the vicitms whose sacred memories will be held forever.
Koh Pich stampede has transformed the nation – the people want a true share of governance and a democratic system that decentralize powers, and engagement of ideas and opinions for a united Cambodia.
Sochua Mu, MP