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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Local observer groups may be in CPP's pocket

Local observer groups may be in CPP's pocket

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FAIR OBSERVERS

But will these poll watchers from the KYARDFHR be impartial?

THE likelihood that many of the 73,000 local polling observers are closely associated

with the CPP has the National Election Committee (NEC) scrambling to revise its former

come-one, come-all stance on the observation process.

Tip Jahnvibol, head of the NEC's legal department, said July 15 that his department

is investigating reports that the Buddhist Association for the Relief of the Poor

has ties with the CPP.

The NEC also suspects that another NGO, the Khmer Youth Association for Development,

Farmers and Human Rights (KYARDFHR), has close links to the de-facto ruling party.

Jahnvibol said the Buddhist Association appeared to be working with CPP Gen. Nhim

Vanda to sign up NEC-accredited observers and much of the paperwork for the association's

24,441 observers appeared to have been forged.

"It appears to be a clear violation of the code of conduct," Jahnvibol

said of the Buddhist Association. "If there are active ties between an observer

and a politician, it's a big problem."

The NEC knows that other NGO groups are extorting bribes from prospective observers

on the promise that they will be given handsome salaries, Jahnvibol said.

The NEC and the Interior Ministry both warned offending NGOs to stop taking the cash,

but the NEC has since received a report from the Ratanakiri Provincial Election Commission

(PEC) that KYARDFHR is still engaged in the impropriety.

Asked if any NGOs would soon lose their accreditation, Jahnvibol said: "Maybe."

In another effort to control the influx of observers, Jahnvibol said that NGOs would

now be limited to one observer per polling station. Any additional accreditation

cards that have been distributed will be confiscated by the PECs.

The emergence of about 73,000 Cambodian observers has raised eyebrows among foreign

election technicians, who expected established observation groups COMFREL and COFFEL

- with upwards of 12,000 observers - to account for the bulk of the polling-day effort

along with a few hundred international observers.

"The NEC has to set standards for the local observers," one election technician

said. "You can't be from a farmers' NGO and expect to come into the elections

at the last minute."

One NEC member, who spoke anonymously, complained that several of the NGOs were pro-CPP.

"They're basically controlled by the party with the approval of [Concil of Ministers

member] Sok An and others," he said. "They will make a declaration after

the election. If the election was good, they will say it was bad. If the election

was bad, they will say it was good."

KYARDFHR is a "historical society sponsored by Sok An", according to the

NEC member.

An NGO umbrella group called the Cambodian Coordination Committee - accredited for

about 1,000 observers - was also run by Chea Chamroeun before he was voted as the

NGO representative of the NEC.

Controversy surrounded the election of Chamroeun. Some NGOs said he paid $100 bribes

to many voters to win the NEC spot, and had also hosted a dinner along with Sok An

and Hun Sen adviser Om Yienteng before the vote.

The leadership of the Buddhist Association for the Relief of the Poor defended its

independence. Before joining the election, they said, the NGO was strictly a relief

organization providing the needy with "clothes, medicine and wheelchairs."

President Sony Sok directed most questions to his acting president Nul Sophat. Sok

said that he was now a candidate in Kandal province for businessman Ted Ngoy's Free

Development Republican Party. Ngoy's party has a formal alliance with the CPP.

Sophat, who reportedly works for Gen. Nhim Vanda, said the NGO became interested

in the importance of the polls to Cam-bodia's future and because the nation was in

need of "a real leader who has the correct abilities to lead Cambodia toward

peace".

Sophat complained of cash problems, saying that foreign embassies and the Asia Foundation

had ignored calls for support.

Sophat said the budget problems were so severe that he was not sure if he would be

able to pay his 24,000 observers and that training had been a bare minimum.

"I am still very doubtful that we can do this job," he said.

KYARDFHR president Nge Chandara said the NGO was established in 1989 at the Site

2 refugee camp on the Thai-Cambodian border and that it was politically independent.

Chandara said that although its budget was also stretched, extensive training was

being emphasized for his observers. He said many had agreed to work for free.

"Others still want their payment," Chandara said. "If they do not

receive compensation, the observers may become biased toward a political party."

Chandara said his NGO had problems with senior staff extorting bribes from observers.

He had recently fired 12 staff.

By comparison, COFFEL director Lay Sovathara said its $203,000 budget - including

donations from the Asia Foundation - was being spent on an open, extensive training

program and voter education.

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