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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Neutrality of poll security forces left to God

Neutrality of poll security forces left to God

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ELECTION VICTORY UNDER LOCK & KEY

Appropriately marked "box of the ballots", this Japanese-constructed, aluminium

and collapsible wonder will hold a polling station's ballots overnight, hopefully

without incident.

THE National Election Committee (NEC) is trusting to "God" and human nature

to ensure that the 80,000 soldiers and police responsible for election security will

be neutral and follow NEC policies.

An NEC member, who did not wish to be named, said that the training and rules governing

election security personnel were aimed at keeping them out of politics.

But in the end, the NEC had no direct control over its implementation, he said.

He said he hoped that everyone participating in the election would put aside personal

desire and try to work together to make it a success.

"Everyone wants power, he wants power, I want power, you want power, but now

all Cambodians should trust each other... and maybe we have to trust in God."

However human rights workers with less faith in divine providence are worried that

the security personnel will not behave in a politically neutral way.

They are also concerned that most of the security personnel will be under the command

of National Police Chief Hok Lundy, a staunch loyalist of the CPP.

One worker said that only a few years ago the issue of making the police and army

politically neutral was imperative for the future of the country.

But that never happened, he said, and now no one seemed concerned that they are an

integral part of the election.

With the NEC seriously short of money, the government is picking up the bill for

election security. All the NEC can offer security forces come polling day, said one

NEC member, was "a meal".

The government is funding security for every polling station on July 26 as well as

security for candidates, observers and election officials. Polling stations alone

will require 60,000 security staff on election day: two unarmed men at each station,

and three unarmed men patrolling 200m away. They will wear civilian clothes with

just an NEC armband; their one AK-47 will be hidden somewhere away from public view.

They will arrive at each polling station two days before voting day to protect election

equipment and meet local election officials.

They won't be allowed in a polling station unless they are asked by an election official

to deal with a specific incident.

The five-man squads will be backed up by more heavily armed mobile teams in each

provinces, in theory able to get to any trouble spots in a short time.

With a few exceptions, sources monitoring electoral security say that, on paper,

the measures are well thought out and appropriate.

The big exception is that the full ballot boxes will remain in the house of the local

polling officer overnight July 26. Many are worried they could be tampered with.

However NEC technical staff admit that while it is possible to open a ballot box

by force it would be impossible to do it without leaving traces. The boxes are padlocked,

then sealed, then placed in a plastic bag which also has a security seal on it.

The rest of the NEC's rules on election security have generally followed similar

models used overseas.

The NEC has also created strict guidelines for the behavior of security personnel.

According to the handbook being issued to each soldier or policeman, actions like

threatening behavior are defined and prohibited. Threatening behavior is defined

in part as follows:

- Saying, directly or indirectly or by writing, to threaten death, punishment or

destruction of property;

- Beating or hurting people;

- Displaying or using weapons to frighten people;

- Referring to prior incidents where people have been murdered, injured or their

property destroyed;

- Firing a gun over a person's head, at their house or car or around their property;

- Placing any sign or material, including dead animals, in front of someone's house;

- Following or accompanying people against their will that causes them to be frightened

for their security;

- Using macho language as a threat or intimidation.

If they get caught doing any of the above, they will be warned the first time. After

a second offense they could be detained for "28 hours", have their weapon

confiscated, be fined between 5 million and 10 million riel, have their name removed

from the voter registration list and have their voter ID seized.

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