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EC team to observe election

The European Commission (EC) has announced a special 90-member Election Observation

Mission (EOM) to observe the February 2002 commune elections. Several foreign nationals

living in Cambodia and other Asian countries have also volunteered to act as observers.

The announcements come in the wake of reports of intimidation, threats and killings

of commune council candidates from both Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy Party (SRP). The

SRP said Sok Kry, a candidate for the Sou Sdei commune in Svey Rieng province, was

kicked and punched unconscious by local police when he tried to intervene in a fight

involving his nephew. The party claimed it was yet another political attack in a

long-running vendetta to intimidate its candidates.

Electoral bodies including the National Election Committee are fearful

that the number of cases will escalate during campaigning which starts January 18.

In a statement issued mid-November the NEC regretted that only 33 foreign observers

had registered at that time. It called for greater foreign participation "to

ensure transparency and instill confidence in the process".

The EC's decision was announced in Brussels November 27 and marks a departure from

its normal rule only to provide observers for national elections. The same day the

EC said it would commit 1.25 million euros ($1.1 million) to fund the mission headed

by Carlos Costa Neves Mep, deputy chairman of the European Parliament's delegation

for relations with South East Asia. The EU has also provided technical assistance

to the NEC.

The EC said it hoped the observation mission would diffuse tension and deter possible

election-related malpractice and violence.

"The purpose is to increase transparency of, and confidence in, the election

process through the presence and reporting of international observers," said

Commissioner Chris Patten.

The EOM includes a core team of experts in areas including media monitoring and statistical

analysis. It will have 30 long-term observers who will concentrate on the entire

gamut of electoral activities including the election campaign, administrative preparations

at the commune level, and all post-election activities. The 60 remaining members

of the team will act as short-term observers for various electoral activities.

"Local level democracy is important. When it comes to promoting sustainable

development, grassroots participation matters," said an EU spokesperson. "A

farmer in a Cambodian village may well have stronger views on the man or woman making

local decisions on his behalf than he does [about] a politician in distant Phnom

Penh."

The EC said it expected the local elections to be "an important landmark in

Cambodia's commitment to the political and democratic development, as commune councils

will be directly elected for the first time since the 1980s."

Meanwhile, local election NGO NICFAC will enroll 50 foreign volunteers to join the

pool of foreign observers.

"The Asia Foundation has offered to provide funding for a foreign consultant,

while several foreign nationals living in Cambodia and keen to become a part of this

democratic process have volunteered to act as observers in different provinces,"

director Heng Puthea told the Post December 6.

Another NGO, Comfrel, said the Japanese Cambodian Forum and the Thailand-based Asian

Network for Free Elections (Anfrel) were in regular touch and had offered to send

more observers to strengthen both long and short term observation of the electoral

process including campaigning, polling and counting.

"A delegation [from Anfrel] is arriving in Cambodia on December 20 to finalize

the details [on its participation]," said director Panha Koul.

All the election monitoring NGOs plan to gather foreign volunteers in Phnom Penh

to train them in the techniques and methods of election observation and reporting

before they are dispatched to the provinces. A total of 19,663 local observers have

also registered with the NEC.

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