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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Political violence down but public still scared as election nears: NGOs

Political violence down but public still scared as election nears: NGOs

Political violence and intimidation ahead of next month's general election are down compared to the run-up to Cambodia's 2003 national vote, but remain a cause of mounting concern for political activists and the public, according to a coalition of rights groups and election monitors.

There were five politically connected murders in Cambodia from January through May this year, down from seven such killings during the same period of 2003, according to a joint statement released June 3 by the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC) and election monitors Comfrel and Nicfec.

Comfrel executive director Koul Panha said the group recognizes that political violence has decreased but is still concerned attacks could escalate as the July 27 polls grow closer.

"Political violence could increase in June because of politicians' verbal attacks on one another," Panha said.

"As elections near, politicians always indirectly insult each other. This can lead to an increasingly tense situation that creates fears for activists - that's why we're making this appeal," he said.

Panha said five political activists connected with either the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, the Human Rights Party or the Norodom Ranariddh Party were killed this year.

"However, these cases have not been regarded as political murders; they are very difficult to investigate because the killings were hidden by the authorities," he told the Post without providing details of the deaths, suspects in the cases or people involved in the alleged cover-ups.

According to Panha, there were 84 threats and acts of intimidation recorded during the first five months of 2003.

He said this figure had dropped to 21 incidents during the same period of this year's election cycle.

However, the joint statement said "most perpetrators have not yet been brought to justice" and the authorities have not made any serious effort to prevent other such crimes.

Theary Seng, executive director of the Center for Social Development, a member organization of CHRAC, said that although political violence so far appears to have declined over the past five years, people always become increasingly nervous of bloodshed as elections near.

Cambodians, she added, suffer from a "culture of fear" resulting from the customary use of intimidation during campaign seasons.

After weeks of heated election rhetoric, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced on June 4 that he would stop making public comments and speeches in the month before the vote, and urged his supporters not to be provoked by remarks made by their political opponents.



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