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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rainsy beefs up security for candidates

Rainsy beefs up security for candidates

With the approach of the registration period for candidates for local elections approaching,

opposition politician Sam Rainsy said his party is taking drastic measures to insure

security for his party's candidates.

"The plan of the Sam Rainsy Party now is to establish shelters for our candidates,"

Rainsy announced on September 27. The outspoken party leader described his candidates

for the unprecedented commune elections as "harassed, beaten, threatened, arrested,

and terrorized to the point that a growing number of them have been fleeing their

homes."

Three SRP candidates have been killed in the last few months, while many more have

complained of acts of intimidation or violence, often carried out by local officials.

The government has denied the killings are politically motivated.

Rainsy said that some of his party's candidates had gone into hiding in the forest

to escape potential harassment or assassination, and claimed that dozens of potential

candidates have withdrawn from the polls in the lead up to the candidate registration

period, slated for 14 -16 Ocober.

"This is the crucial stage, the sanctioning of candidates," Rainsy said.

"If we do not have candidates, if our candidates are killed or frightened off...people

cannot vote for us."

Rainsy said that the shelters would be located in each province, and would be available

to party members throughout the commune elections take, scheduled for February 2002.

He said that the party would provide additional support to those who vacated their

farms to take shelter, such as paying for laborers to bring their harvests in.

Rainsy claimed that the targeting of opposition candidates was part of an orchestrated

campaign by the ruling Cambodian Peoples Party.

"In each commune you need from ten to 22 candidates. We need more than ten thousand

including the reserves," Rainsy said. "Those 10,000 candidates, they are

easy targets for the CPP. To intimidate six million voters is one thing. Still to

frighten off and intimidate ten or twelve thousand candidates is easier."

Dr Lao Mong Hay of the Khmer Institute of Democracy said Rainsy's measures were reasonable

considering the circumstances.

"The government's duty is first and foremost to provide security for all, including

party candidates. But if it has not been able to do so then organizations and even

individuals can resort to their own ways of insuring their own security. I don't

think it's legitimate to criticize that measure."

Sam Rainsy said that the CPP was using three pretexts to cover acts against his party's

members: that victims of violence were either prey to bandits or were killed because

they practiced sorcery, or that party members were involved in the Cambodian Freedom

Fighters, a California-based anti-government group which staged botched and bloody

attacks on government buildings last year.

Rainsy likened the CFF accusations, which have motivated at least 35 arrests in the

past month, to Khmer Rouge efforts to root out state enemies during their rule in

the 1970s.

"We all remember that the Khmer Rouge eliminated their opponents by accusing

them of being American CIA agents or Soviet KGB agents, Rainsy said. "So now

they use the same methods but the name of the enemy organization is CFF."

According to US ambassador Kent Wiedemann, there's no denying that political violence

is taking place. "There are confirmed cases which appear to be politically inspired,"

he said, "and others where it is not so clear."

Wiedemann insisted on disassociating Rainsy's complaints from the CFF phenomenon.

"It is a real organization, that has committed real crimes - terrorism if you

will - and [the Cambodian government] has the right to defend itself. However it

does not have the right to use that rubric to go after political opponents."

Wiedemann said that while abuse of CFF accusations by the government was potentially

credible, he urged caution by saying that members of various political parties had

been arrested in the recent sweep of suspects, and that not enough information had

come to light concerning the arrests to make any judgements.

There is already a palpable sense that the roundup of CFF suspects had added greatly

to the climate of fear in Cambodia. One Cambodian human rights activist, while echoing

Wiede-mann's cautious posture, insisted on anonymity when queried about the nature

of the latest arrests.

"Don't mention my name, say only 'a rights worker'," the activist said.

"It's very dangerous because I can also be accused of being a CFF."

"That is a defeatist attitude," counters Lao Mong Hay. "Use your right

to freedom of expression. We have every right. If they do something to frighten you,

you don't deserve to be the leader of a group. The Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu said,

'if you can use your mouth, and you don't need any soldier or weapon to drive away

your enemy, that is the best general'."

"What is missing in our culture is that we don't promote courage - and it's

time we changed that."

Meanwhile Wiedemann said that diplomats were paying close attention to the political

mood and the violence which is affecting it, especially as candidate registration

date draws near. "If that doesn't go well," he warned, "if in the

leadup we see more killings, intimidation, attempts to block people outside the CPP

to register as candidates, well, this government's going to get a very sobering message

from the world community that its promise to deliver a free and fair election is

seen to be without foundation."

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