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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rainsy activists target of violence

Rainsy activists target of violence

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rainsy.jpg

Sam Rainsy Party intimidation victims Hu Sim, left, and Neang Yan

VIOLENCE and intimidation against opposition party supporters have increased significantly

in recent weeks, according to a senior human rights official.

The official, who did not want to be named, said her office has learned from sources

within the CPP that the party expects to lose between 30 to 40 per cent of the CPP

commune chiefs in the elections scheduled for next year.

She said this information has put human rights groups on alert as they expect the

level of violence to be particularly high as the CPP commune chiefs try desperately

to hang on to their positions.

There are now rumors emanating from within the CPP, said the official, that the party

plans to replace commune chiefs they feel are unelectable with more popular candidates.

The official said the human rights group is hoping for a declaration from CPP leaders

that political violence will not be tolerated, but so far that declaration has not

been forthcoming.

She said human rights workers are now bracing themselves for a level of politically

related violence during the leadup to the commune elections that might surpass that

of 1998, when more than 50 people were murdered.

Apart from recent, well-publicized killings in Kampot and Prey Veng, there is a steady

stream of incidents and threats bringing fear to Cambodia's political opposition.

On the night of August 19, Hu Sim, a 54-year-old farmer from Chamres village in Prey

Veng, was watching TV with his wife and children when an unidentified gunman fired

three AK-47 rounds into his house.

One of the rounds tore into the floor and a splinter of wood left Sim's foot badly

swollen and bruised.

Sim, a Sam Rainsy party supporter, said he did not know why the gunmen fired into

his house but he suspected political intimidation.

He said after the shooting the family hid quietly in the house while the gunman fled.

The chief of the commune inspected the scene of the shooting and ordered an investigation,

but so far no suspects have been caught.

Sim said that since the last elections there has been tension between villagers who

support different political parties. He said his village chief, a CPP supporter,

now refuses to speak to him.

"Maybe they shot into my house because the SRP is gaining strong support in

the village. SRP activists often give lectures to groups of three to four villagers

in secret places. We do it in secret because if the CPP supporters knew, they might

take action against us.

"I think the CPP does not want to see democracy in the communes. I'm really

concerned and afraid about the coming elections because more violence against the

SRP might occur," said Sim.

Sim's neighbor, Neang Yan, 48, has also suffered from discrimination and threats

because of his SRP affiliation.

"CPP supporters warned me not to join the SRP because it was linked to the Khmer

Serey movement," said Yan.

Several months ago Yan, Sim and other SRP supporters in their village had their ducks,

chickens and pigs poisoned. It was never clearly determined why they were targeted,

but they suspect it was a warning about their political allegiance.

Just days after the poisoning the CPP village chief posted a sign outside his house

warning villagers to be careful as there might be another poisoning. Yan and Sim

were not aware of any police investigation into the matter.

But political intimidation is not just occurring in the provinces. Bouth Bopha, 54,

an SRP activist living in Sangkat Tonle Bassac, Phnom Penh, worries that she will

be the target for attack because of her involvement with the SRP. "Now I fear

for my safety very much."

She said a CPP group leader has ordered people to monitor her movements. "She

wants to know when I leave home and where I go," said Bopha.

Bopha said she fled her home in early August because she feared for her life. For

16 days she lived away from her house and didn't tell even her children where she

had gone. She has since returned home, but she remains afraid.

"At night time I do not dare sleep on the bamboo grating floor because I am

afraid that someone will try to kill me from beneath my house. I sleep hanging from

a hammock."

Bopha said a neighbor passed on a threat from the CPP group leader who warned her

that if she continued visiting the SRP headquarters then she would "disappear

one day". The neighbor told Bopha that it is no longer just men who will be

victims of attack and that Bopha's life was "very fragile".

During recent floods, the same CPP official refused to give Keo Ny, a 48-year-old

flood victim of Tonle Bassac, papers that would have qualified her for rice donations

by the Cambodian Red Cross.

"I wondered why I was not given the gift, but I was told to go get rice from

the 'Jesus Party'," said Ny, using the CPP official's nickname for the SRP.

Huy Thou, a 40-year-old SRP activist from the same village, said she too was denied

the Red Cross rice donation because of her affiliation with the SRP. "I was

told I did not deserve the donation because I was a member of the SRP."

The human rights official said it is hoped the newly appointed Special Representative

for Human Rights in Cambodia, Peter Leuprecht, will begin his work as soon as possible

because there is an urgent need for high-level representation.

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