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candidates have withdrawn from the polls in the lead up to the candidate registration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