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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Security Concerns Loom Over Polls

Security Concerns Loom Over Polls

With the campaign period having ended and the elections to begin in two days, the

question on everybody's lips is whether the Khmer Rouge will try to live up to their

promise to disrupt the elections and, if so, to what extent.

As United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali pointed out in his latest

progress report on the Cambodian situation, security concerns have already led to

the cancellation of about 300 hundred polling sites in the traditional trouble spots

of Kompong Thom and Siem Reap thereby, disenfranchising a significant number of voters

The concern now shared by U.N. personnel and Cambodians alike is that the Khmer Rouge

may be able to further reduce or even radically reduce voter turnout.

Prime Minister Hun Sen recently expressed his confidence to the Post that his Cambodian

People's Armed Forces (CPAF) would be able to protect the polling process from any

large scale Khmer Rouge attacks.

"Right now everyone seems to be too scared from my point of view. Of course,

the Khmer Rouge will try to disrupt the elections. But it's not just a question of

the Khmer Rouge's ability. It depends also on our ability and efforts to stop them.

Over the past 14 years they could not prevail over our forces," Hun Sen said.

Dominique Gueret, the U.N. civil administration director in charge of supervising

and controlling the Phnom Penh Ministry of Defense, said Defense Minister Gen. Tea

Banh was also optimistic about the polls.

"Gen. Tea Banh was very confident of CPAF's capability to ensure a normal election

in the majority of the country except in the two provinces where there is sure to

be trouble, Kompong Thom and Siem Reap. But he assured me that the polls could be

held along the road, along national Route Six," Gueret said.

U.N. Deputy Force Commander Brig. Gen. Rideau said he did not know whether Tea Banh

was being over-confident.

"It's difficult to say. I hope they can deal with this problem. Up until now

we have seen a lot of minor engagements. The NADK have often tried to cut the route.

But every time they have been pushed back by CPAF. This has been the case and I hope

it remains so. One must always be confident but not too confident," Rideau said.

The peacekeepers have taken their own measures to try to ensure the security of the

process. It is the responsibility of each sector commander, in consultation with

the provincial director and the provincial electoral officer, to determine what is

the best way to ensure security, the general said but he refused to give any details.

He did say, however, that each sector will have a 'quick reaction force'. There will

also be an elite 'quick reaction force' based in Phnom Penh. It will comprise one

company, with helicopters at their disposal, ready to go anywhere, anytime. With

a wry smile and definite pride, the French general said the company consisted of

150 Legionnaires. "The best," he emphasized.

In addition, "passive protection assets" such as flak jackets, helmets,

metal detectors for the polling booths and night vision equipment for the military

were being distributed.

"I think that what we have is sufficient, all that is reasonable to ensure safety.

Because it is not war," Rideau said.

It's a question of organizing an election in a country that is by no means peaceful

but it's not Yugoslavia, Rideau said.

"We are not going to put mines around the polling booths," he said.

Even with the U.N.'s own security measures, Rideau acknowledged that UNTAC was relying

primarily on CPAF and then, to a lesser extent, on ANKI and the KPNLAF to provide

"remote protection" during the process.

"Of course, we rely on them because, first of all, they are Cambodians. They

want the elections, so we hope that they will do all that is possible to ensure security.

Because it is their only chance and their last chance. They must not forget it's

their problem, not our problem. So I think it's a matter of them being responsible,"

he said.

CPAF's military prowess, however, has often been called into question.

Gueret said he had recently visited a CPAF barracks and, while he was not at all

impressed, he did not think that CPAF was the weak, disobedient, ill-organized shambles

that some allege.

"I think they have the capacity to respond to direct attacks and maybe that

is why they are feeling confident," he said, adding, "I think they will

do their best to ensure the safety of the election."

Rideau looked at this problem from another angle pointing to the recent attack in

Preah Vihear where the Pakistanis repulsed three consecutive Khmer Rouge assaults,

killing two guerrillas and injuring an unknown number of others while sustaining

just one minor injury on their side. He questions whether the Khmer Rouge are all

they were cracked up to be.

The May 3 attack on Siem Reap, he said, also revealed poor military tactics.

"It was not coordinated action. But I think they wanted coordinated action to

attack the CPAF HQ. But before going to this objective they fired at the Polish logistics

dump [nearby and within audible range of the CPAF headquarters]. You see, that's

a mistake," he said.

The looting and rampage of the people's houses were also not a sign of disciplined

soldiers, Rideau said.

The Khmer Rouge only succeeded in their aim to sow fear and cause disruption.

Some observers have suggested that this of one of the motives of Khmer Rouge attacks.

They hope to frighten a sufficient number of people out of voting. So, with a low

turn out, they can claim the poll results do not represent the legitimate voice of

the people.

Rideau, however, did not think they had the capacity to create the fear and chaos

necessary for such a large drop in voter turn out.

" I don't think that they represent a major military threat. But there is a

rule, 'never underestimate your enemy'. It's just common sense," he said.

Random grenades and terrorist acts, however, remain a serious problem for both Cambodian

and the peacekeeping forces.

"Tea Banh said he couldn't promise me anything on that front," Gueret said,

adding, "He told me it was possible that we could have grenades or something

like that even in Phnom Penh."

"That can happen in any country. We are taking precautionary measures to avoid

it. But it is the worst thing," Rideau added.

Rideau said he did not know if the U.N. would be facing the same problems now if

they had followed the advice of his predecessor, Gen. Loridon, who, at the time when

the Khmer Rouge refused to let the blue berets deploy in their zones, advocated going

in by force if necessary.

"I wasn't there. He may have been right. But I want to answer the question this

way. There was the Paris Agreement, the four factions signed the paper. I think we

are always forgetting something, this is not Somalia or Yugoslavia. The U.N. came

here because the Cambodians asked us to.

"My idea is that if one of the factions did not want to go and make a further

step, the process should have stopped at that time. We should have negotiated then.

We should have moved step by step. It's a multi-component process and we should not

have gone forward leaving one of the components behind.

"I think some decisions should have been taken to rediscuss or to do something.

It could have been from a military point of view. But we went on whatever the incident.

We didn't want to look. We were blind. I think we should have stopped and said '

you asked us to come here, now what do you want us to do'."

Rideau acknowledged that the U.N. would probably have just heard the usual monotonous

conspiracy chorus of Vietnamese soldiers up every tree, intelligence agents in every

brothel and that the SNC had as much power as a Model T Ford.

"Well then we should have just gone back and said 'it's your problem guy',"

he said.

The general went on to criticize the Cambodians for blaming UNTAC for their own failures.

"If you invite someone into your house to help you, then you don't turn around

and start blaming them. They were in a mess, and the mess was not made by us, and

they called for us. We arrived and then they think that we are not doing our job.

We told them 'be more reasonable, it's a Cambodian problem, it's not our problem'.

And yet they blame UNTAC. UNTAC should have done this, UNTAC should have done that.

But we have done a lot. And what did they do? That's the question to ask."

"Of course, we are not perfect. Perhaps it could have been much better. But

it's not worse now than it was two years ago. We did a lot. We are paying for this.

Our guys, who have been killed, died for Cambodia. We have given the Cambodians a

chance. And they're a bit ungracious, it's a bit sick."

When the failure of Phase Two became apparent last July, Boutros Boutros-Ghali said

UNTAC had a choice. They could either pack up and go home or stay and demonstrate

that the international community remained committed to the Cambodian people's aspirations

for peace and democracy.

"Yes it was a choice. I don't fault that. There must be choices in life. If

the election goes well everybody will say it was the right choice. UNTAC then will

have succeeded, UNTAC will be marvelous. If things don't go well, we will be blamed,"

the French general said.

"It's always like that."

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