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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Intimidation still the norm in Kampong Cham

Intimidation still the norm in Kampong Cham

Kampong Cham is not only the most populous province with the highest number of seats

up for grabs, it also saw the most killings of political activists in last year's

commune elections.

Its dubious death record-five killed prior to the commune elections, three of them

in Thbong Khmum commune alone-means the province is under scrutiny from media, human

rights groups and political parties.

The good news is that there have apparently been no politically-related killings

to date in the province, which has 18 seats. But the drop in the murder rate does

not mean the amount of intimidation in the province has decreased.

"Compared to the previous three elections, the situation is better in terms

of killings," said Neang Savat, the provincial head of Comfrel, an election

monitoring NGO. "In terms of intimidation, it is no better."

The opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) claims that members of the ruling Cambodian

People's Party (CPP), including high-level commune officials, collected and burned

SRP leaflets in Thbong Khmum's market on July 10.

Although the local SRP head, Chheng Sophal, did not see it happen, he said he heard

the story from three other people. He said he would report the incident to the Commune

Election Commission (CEC), but has no faith that it will help.

Sophal also claimed that CPP officials had threatened villagers who might be inclined

to vote for the opposition.

"They say, 'If someone supports the SRP, then they will not be welcome in Thbong

Khmum'," he said. "If they stay, the authorities will not help them."

That complaint was echoed by Comfrel's Savat, who said CPP officials had reportedly

gathered village families in front of a CPP sign and then photographed them. That

made it easier for the party to exert pressure, as they could lean on the family,

not just individuals.

"It gets people very scared, especially the uneducated," he said.

The CPP in Kampong Cham denied any family photographs were taken. Sev Huy, who heads

the party's administration office in Thbong Khmum, said the CPP simply wanted people

to vote, but did not tell them which party to select.

Thbong Khmum has become synonymous with election violence. Om Sokheang, a CPP official

in the commune, said special care was taken to ensure the killings seen in past elections

would not happen again.

He said the government has provided military police guards for each party, and reinforcements

will be sent in directly before the July 27 vote.

A better political atmosphere in the commune, he added, had led to a lower level

of political violence and intimidation.

"This year is very good because the parties haven't had any conflicts,"

he said.

The local CEC has reported no problems in the commune, and the commission's Meas

Pica said the election process had been going well.

But reports of intimidation have been reported elsewhere in Kampong Cham. Two threatening

letters were dropped off at SRP activists' homes in Prey Chhor commune. The Post

has copies of both letters. The first, discovered on July 9, threatens an activist

with "three bullets", two of which came with the letter.

The second, which was addressed and delivered to SRP activist Sim Ream on July 11,

reads: "Mr Sim Ream, don't be too bold, or you'll be killed today by a K-54

... In my village, if you won't leave the SRP, you will absolutely be killed. Thanks."

The SRP is still investigating the letters, said Prey Chhor advisor Kroch Samol,

adding that the party "has its suspicions" as to who may be behind the

letters.

Pressure may not only be in the form of threats and manipulation, but also in 'teaching'

people how to vote. Mao Monyvan, second on the SRP ticket in Kampong Cham, claimed

the CPP had distributed mock ballots in six villages to make sure the locals know

how to select the ruling party on the voting card.

Monyvan said the opposition had reported the incident. However when the Post contacted

Comfrel and the Provincial Election Commission (PEC), neither knew about the allegation.

But, said Comfrel's Neang, election problems were common across the province.

"All these problems are happening in almost every commune in Kampong Cham,"

said Neang. He attributed it to a culture of impunity-especially in the CPP-a lack

of independent investigations, and personal disputes being settled under the cover

of the election.

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