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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Campaign 'hunting season' begins

Campaign 'hunting season' begins

LET THE CAMPAIGN BEGIN!

Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Sam Rainsy all attended party rallies June 25 for the official start of the 1998 election campaign. Ranariddh, who traveled to Kampong Cham for a Funcinpec rally, claimed far-and-away the largest turnout on opening day with at least 10,000 attending. The Sam Rainsy Party attracted about 3,000 supporters to its campaign kick-off at Olympic Stadium. The CPP, which netted 2,000 supporters for a celebration at the party's Phnom Penh office, may have more to fear from the opposition than many may have first thought.

KILLINGS of opposition activists - seemingly a rarity for a balmy 30 days while voter

registration was underway - have returned with a vengeance since June 12.

"Hunting season," said one human rights worker, "has begun".

Seven opposition members have been killed since June 12 in five provinces, claim

rights groups. The UN Center for Human Rights (UNCHR) is still investigating three

prior cases of murders in April, May (the alleged political killing of three CPP

members in Siem Reap) and "dead bodies" found in Neak Luong in July last

year.

More opposition activists have been maimed or injured or have fled into hiding of

late. One Funcinpec member, Ham Pres, lost both eyes and remains in a coma in Kampong

Cham. A CPP activist threatened to "eat alive" a Funcinpec opponent, said

another rights worker.

"It's like there was an order from on high during registration: 'Keep it clean'.

I'm not saying there's been a centralized order since to resume killing - it's just

the interpretation at the [village and commune] levels has been to get back to what

they know," said one foreign rights worker.

The death tally, so far since June 12, is Funcinpec, 5, Sam Rainsy Party, 1, Reastr

Niyum 1. The UNCHR is also looking into the killing of five deminers in Banteay Meanchey

on June 18. Other rights groups say that recent "dubious" killings have

been reported in Kampong Speu, Kampong Thom and Kandal.

Since mid-May staff from the UNCHR were twice followed in Kampong Cham, and shots

were fired at UNCHR staff investigating a murder in Prey Veng. A similar incident

happened a week earlier in front of a European Union observer team in the same province.

There have also been numerous arbitrary and illegal arrests and detentions, death

threats, torture, shootings of party signs and incidents of coercion. On June 19

the editor of the Funcinpec newspaper Kumnet Koun Khmer, Sen Sachak, escaped an attempted

abduction in Phnom Penh.

On June 30 Sam Rainsy Party workers gathering for a parade in Battambang received

six parcels containing explosive devices, but wrapped and presented as if they were

cakes.

A UNCHR report published July 1 confirmed that "at least four of the killings

present political aspects".

Privately, other rights workers disbelieve the non-political motives for murder being

put forward by local authorities in nearly all the cases.

Still more allegations of violence and intimidation - more than 140 complaints have

been made to UNCHR staff in a five-week period alone, and more still have been made

to local rights groups - "illustrate widespread political intimidation and abuse,"

the report states.

LET THE CAMPAIGN BEGIN!

Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Sam Rainsy all attended party rallies June 25 for the official start of the 1998 election campaign. Ranariddh, who traveled to Kampong Cham for a Funcinpec rally, claimed far-and-away the largest turnout on opening day with at least 10,000 attending. The Sam Rainsy Party attracted about 3,000 supporters to its campaign kick-off at Olympic Stadium. The CPP, which netted 2,000 supporters for a celebration at the party's Phnom Penh office, may have more to fear from the opposition than many may have first thought.

The UNCHR's is, by necessity, a conservative report, detailing those cases that have

been investigated and corroborated by its own staff.

Still, the report notes a "general climate of pressure and fear" particularly

in the countryside. Most rights workers who spoke with the Post say the horror is

escalating.

Before June 12 - that is, largely throughout the registration process - such killings

had all but ceased.

A clean end to the registration process was considered, some sources say, as the

government's final hurdle to ensure continued donor assistance for elections.

Donors' rhetoric that they would pull out en masse if some threshold of political

unac-ceptability was reached - a threshold that has never been defined - is

considered by many as a hollow threat.

Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, for one, has long said that once the ballot boxes

were in the country, nothing would stop the process.

If the new reality of Cambodia's atmosphere is undeniable - seven dead in a fortnight

- the reasons as to exactly why are many and varied.

Analysts say that the CPP is now under intense pressure. The parallel with 1993 -

when CPP had control of civil administration, grassroots power and most of the guns,

yet still lost a popular vote despite systematic intimidation and manipulation -

is obvious, many say.

The opposition campaigns, specifically those of Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party

(SRP), have kicked off with massive public support.

Prince Ranariddh began his campaign in Kampong Cham on June 25 with a rally attended

by 10,000 people, and some reports indicate the crowd was far larger. The boisterous

reception to his speech saying a vote for Funcinpec is a vote for the King surprised

long-time observers.

On the same day Rainsy attracted 3,000 to Olympic Stadium. First Prime Minister Ung

Huot - who says he is opposition, if few others believe it - claimed to have attracted

a total of more than 20,000 supporters in two consecutive rallies on June 26 and

27.

The seemingly all-powerful Hun Sen, by contrast, seems not to be campaigning at all,

apart from saturation coverage in the electronic media. He said he would not make

any more campaign speeches, as it conflicts with his role as guarantor of national

political stability.

Opposition popularity combined with Hun Sen's relative inactivity is doing little

to ease nervousness, especially among those CPP faithful worried about their own

positions and who are being pressured by their patrons to guarantee support.

A long-held analysis, said by sources to have been confirmed by the CPP's own secret

voter surveys, is that Hun Sen is unpopular. The most telling and consistent aspect

of all public opinion polls is that six out of ten people won't say who they will

vote for.

LET THE CAMPAIGN BEGIN!

Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Sam Rainsy all attended party rallies June 25 for the official start of the 1998 election campaign. Ranariddh, who traveled to Kampong Cham for a Funcinpec rally, claimed far-and-away the largest turnout on opening day with at least 10,000 attending. The Sam Rainsy Party attracted about 3,000 supporters to its campaign kick-off at Olympic Stadium. The CPP, which netted 2,000 supporters for a celebration at the party's Phnom Penh office, may have more to fear from the opposition than many may have first thought.

Independent rights workers say that the SRP has been successful in recruiting CPP

members, particularly in the provinces. Rainsy says there are more to come.

"There is so much for [CPP village and commune chiefs] to lose, their position,

status, security and power. They're worried that if they're stripped of power that

their own security will be compromised," said one rights worker.

"They feel threatened. They are secretly joining Rainsy, hoping to have a foot

in both camps...

"The opposition [Funcinpec, the SRP and others] aren't angels. They have dangerous

people as well, killers...," the source said. "Everyone is worried, and

people tend to react violently when under pressure."

Former CPP general Sin Sen has apparently "defected" to the SRP, though

his patron, National Assembly president Chea Sim, is claiming Sen's conversion is

bogus. Sen, along with Sin Song and Prince Chakrapong, was convicted of the 1994

coup plot.

Ironically - given Rainsy's claims of intimidation against his party workers - the

bulk of the infamous "A3" teams accused of systematic killings in 1993

were considered largely loyal to Sen, according to analysts. The teams broke apart

after 1993, primarily because of internal party disputes as to their new leadership.

The pro-CPP press has been quick to paint the Sin Sen move to the SRP as a bid by

Rainsy to strengthen himself militarily. The Wat Phnom News 25 June said that 5000

alleged members of the anti-communist Free Vietnamese will join the SRP before July

26 "to create chaos in order to bother the election".

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