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SRP to expel 9 councilors over bribes

THE Sam Rainsy Party is set to expel at least nine members accused of taking money to vote for CPP candidates in provincial, district and municipal council polls, a party statement said, as opposition leaders Sunday rejected criticisms that commune councilors were forced to take loyalty oaths before the May 17 vote.

The nine Phnom Penh councilors are  named in an undated party statement as facing imminent expulsion.

"The SRP cannot tolerate  members who are corrupt.... We need to reorganise our party's structure and reinforce the party. We don't need corrupt people," party spokesman Yim Sovann said Sunday.

In a statement Saturday, the SRP defended its pre-election ceremonies as being designed to strengthen its councilors against what it said was a concerted CPP effort to "buy" the votes of its members.

"Despite threats, intimidation ... more than 90 percent of the SRP's commune councilors showed their stance of serving with honesty and responsibility," the statement said.

The comments came in response to a statement Friday by the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, criticising the SRP's decision to conduct loyalty oaths and then expel members who voted against the party.

"Any time you put this kind of pressure on the voters, you are violating the [most] basic principle of democracy," said CCHR President Ou Virak.

But Ou Virak added that the election system - which permitted only the country's 11,353 commune councilors to cast ballots - had put the SRP in a difficult position.

"It creates the incentive for parties to do all they can to force people to obey party lines," he said.

CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said Sunday that the SRP should not expel its members for voting against the party, but added that any fired opposition officials would get a warm welcome from the ruling party.

"If [SRP officials] come to the CPP, the CPP will welcome them with open arms."

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY NETH PHEAKTRA

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