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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rocky Road Precedes Battambang Voter Sign-Up

Rocky Road Precedes Battambang Voter Sign-Up

BATTAMBANG-Cambodia's second major city will be one of the last to launch voter registration.

Sign-up has been delayed there until Nov. 2 because of political problems and the

need for more voter education, according to U.N. Provincial Electoral Officer Andre

Bouchard.

In many other parts of the country, including Phnom Penh, registration is expected

to be started by early to mid-October.

Discovery last month that political prisoners were still being held in two Battambang

prisons previously unknown to U.N. peacekeepers-as well as recent violence that may

have been politically motivated-indicate that the province is not ready to start

registration, said Bouchard.

"When you find a body in the river with the head cut off you know there are

problems," Bouchard said, declining to give details of a recent murder in Battambang.

"I've been told that when people have their head cut like that it's political

and not a case of banditry or robbery."

In addition, many of the main political parties are engaging in overt and covert

political harassment, Bouchard said. On May 26, State of Cambodia (SOC) police raided

a house that Funcinpec-the party of Prince Norodom Ranariddh-had rented in preparation

for opening an office in Battambang.

"The intimidation is from all the parties-also the others against SOC,"

Bouchard stressed. "Even parties we feel are very clean. It's not black and

white. They are all playing games. They still look at each other as enemies, not

as competition."

On Sept. 10 the Supreme National Council-the body grouping Cambodia's four factions-passed

regulations in regard to the right of political parties to open provincial offices.

But to date no political parties-other than the State of Cambodia's People's Party-are

openly operating in the province.

"We've been planning to open our offices in Battambang since mid-August,"

said BLDP Secretary General Son Soubert, who was touring resettlement sites for repatriated

refugees in Battambang in mid-September. "UNTAC told us to postpone."

"We have supporters here but we're not in a hurry to open in Battambang because

of the Funcinpec problem," Soubert added.

Funcinpec spokesperson Ek Sereywath said the group hopes to open its branch office

in Battambang by the end of this month. "The situation is getting better there,"

he said. "The trend is too strong to stop us from opening the office."

Battambang Deputy Governor Teas Heanh told the Post on Sept. 18 that he had not yet

received UNTAC's legislation in regard to parties opening provincial offices.

"If accepted by UNTAC, it's no problem for parties to open offices here,"

he said. "The security of the political parties depends on the cooperation of

UNTAC police and SOC police," Teas Heanh said.

Aside from those actively involved in political parties, many Khmer in Battambang

are apathetic or reluctant to discuss openly who they might vote for in next year's

elections.

"I don't believe any of the parties," said a restaurant owner in Battambang

city. "I'm 31 years old and all I've known is war during my lifetime. I'll believe

the politicians when the fighting stops."

A 22-year-old English teacher repatriated in April to Omal district in Battambang

said, "I don't have any information to base a decision on-there's no radio,

T.V. or newspapers in my village."

"With all these things happening, and also because the population in general

doesn't know much-if anything-about the elections, [the province wasn't ready],"

Bouchard said. "We need time to educate the people and also the leaders of the

parties and the government about the electoral process."

Voter registration not starting until November shouldn't delay the actual elections,

slated to be held by next May, Bouchard said, as long as registration is completed

by January or February of next year.

Bouchard said that initially he expected the party of Democratic Kampuchea-the Khmer

Rouge-to pose the major roadblock to setting up elections in Battambang. The Khmer

Rouge control large sections of two Battambang districts, Rattanamondul-where the

city of Pailin is located-and Bavel.

"I was worried about how we can organize elections without these two districts,"

he said. "But when I got here I realized there were other problems from other

factions."

Bouchard said the Khmer Rouge have made promising signs recently that they are preparing

to participate in the elections. On Sept. 16, members of Battambang's Electoral Component

were allowed to visit Pailin for the first time.

"The Khmer Rouge are preparing houses and a new 40-room hotel in Pailin,"

Bouchard said, "as if they're expecting UNTAC soon."

"The trip was very interesting, very heartening-first of all, because we found

out we can go to Pailin," he added. "We feel like in a month or so we can

manage to have some electoral presence there."

Bouchard said he was also encouraged by several meetings he has had in Battambang

city with a Khmer Rouge representative. At the most recent meeting, on Sept. 17,

Bouchard said the Khmer Rouge representative was "very cooperative."

"For the first time I heard the D.K. [Khmer Rouge] talking about elections and

that they are very interested in participating in the process," Bouchard said.

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