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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Complaints Rack Up Against SOC

Complaints Rack Up Against SOC

KOMPONG SPEU-Nestled amidst the lush rice fields just 60 km south of Phnom Penh,

KOMPONG Speu gives a sense of quiet detachment, away from the hubbub of the nearby

capital-and the troubled countryside beyond.

Wooden and brick houses line the main street and old women make fires from timber

which has been brought down from the surrounding hills.

But KOMPONG Speu is also a hotspot for the coming May 1993 national elections, which

hold out the greatest hope for the country's future. Along the main street, six political

parties have already set up offices and party members move around town on motorcycles

and bicycles trying to encourage residents of voting age to register at the local

UNTAC electoral site.

Inside the spartan offices, officials on tiny budgets are in the midst of election

campaigning. "People have survived in many regimes," says one FUNCINPEC

official. "Now they want a party that can maintain peace and independence."

But the mood of hope brought about by the first democratic elections held here in

decades is tinged with fear-not only by the refusal of the Khmer Rouge to disarm

and involve themselves in the elections, but also by the existing government, the

State of Cambodia, which has inspired terror among the other political parties.

Members of SOC are suspected of being responsible for a number of attacks on other

political parties and of making threats to locals and state employees who are enrolling

in those parties.

Two months ago in the village of Thpong, a two-hour drive from KOMPONG Speu, a teacher

who was also a member of FUNCINPEC was allegedly killed after refusing to give up

a party membership card. Other public servants have been threatened with expulsion

from their jobs unless they enroll with SOC's Cambodian People's Party (CPP).

In November alone, some 10 to 15 complaints were filed with UNTAC's Human Rights

Component office in KOMPONG Speu. So far this year, more than 300 complaints have

been received by organizations throughout the country. Most of those complaints have

concerned allegations of harassment from SOC.

At FUNCINPEC headquarters, just a few hundred meters down the road from UNTAC Human

Rights Component office, Loom Sip Ha, chief officer for the province, claims that

party members have been repeatedly harassed and threatened. "We are afraid to

travel from one village to the next because SOC people may harm us," he said.

The local FUNCINPEC party, which has a monthly budget of U.S.... $1,000 to cover

all operating expenses, including a U.S. $500 monthly rent, has complained to UNTAC

but has seen little results to date.

At Republic Democracy Khmer Party (Redek) office, a wooden building down the road

from FUNCINPEC, it's a similar story.

"People are intimidated by the SOC, and UNTAC is afraid to get involved,"

said Sok Sein, a 55-year-old former-technician in a textile factory who is now the

chief of the Redek office.

Redek, a liberal party led by a Cambodian American, has recruited 1,112 members in

the province since it opened up shop in mid-November, and while party officials do

not expect to win the coming elections outright, they hope to gain seats in the constituent

assembly.

Meanwhile, overshadowing all political activity in the area and in the country, is

the Khmer Rouge who maintain a presence in the hill country to the south and north

of the province and have refused to disarm their troops.

Earlier this month, the Khmer Rouge reiterated their position that UNTAC should strengthen

the role of the Supreme National Council and also rid the country of the Vietnamese

soldiers they claim are still on Cambodian soil.

Despite repeated assurances from UNTAC-and the lack of evidence of occupying troops-their

views on the Vietnamese presence are gaining credence from more and more Cambodians

who are beginning to fear their independence is at stake.

"We take the claims extremely seriously," said a senior UNTAC official

in Phnom Penh. "And we are taking measures so that we will be in a position

to state categorically that this is not the case."

CPP, for its part, dismisses the allegations and instead has hung its banner on the

fact that the government overthrew the Khmer Rouge in 1979 and has ushered Cambodia

into the first peaceful period it has had in 15 years. Furthermore, CPP criticizes

the other parties for starting their electioneering early.

"These parties have no support," said Tep Mean, permanent member of the

province at the CPP. "They are trying to start the election campaigning before

it has been officially commenced, so obviously there are problems."

For the people of KOMPONG Speu avoiding political harassment is only half the battle.

Critics charge that the CCP has many avenues it can use to influence an election.

"They have all sorts of tricks," said another party official.

Whether those tricks will see the SOC back into power is another question. But with

the Khmer Rouge as the other stark option and with FUNCINPEC and Redek starved of

funds and frightened, Cambodia's mired politics seems unlikely to end for a considerable

period of time.

"Sometimes I get very frightened," said Loom Sip Ha. "I fear for my

life, but I must be brave to carry out my task."

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