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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - U.N. Advance Team Sets Stage for Elections

U.N. Advance Team Sets Stage for Elections

A behind-the-scenes unit of UNTAC has been speeding forward since last February to

lay the groundwork for elections to be held in April or May, l993.

The first building block on the road to UNTAC-administered elections is called the

Advance Election Planning Unit (AEPU). Set up in late January, a small team of five

specialists - including an American, two Russians, a Canadian, and a Bulgarian-has

been overseeing a nationwide data collection effort that will serve as the basis

for the eventual registration and election processes.

The AEPU has been headed by Bill Clive, a 19-year U.N. career professional who came

out from New York to lead the effort.

"Clive has a reputation for getting the job done," says one U.N. official.

To see Clive in action is to understand why. Working 12- to 15-hour days, seven days

a week, Clive has been racing around Cambodia by plane, helicopter and jeep in an

effort to keep the AEPU's mandate on track. He has a brisk and focused work style;

meetings and project-related discussions are to the point and held at a rapid clip.

"I think I've taken off three days since I came here," Clive says, not

complaining. "I went to see my family in Thailand one day, then there was that

day off back in March and. . .I'm not so sure about the other one. But that's no

big deal, my entire team has been flat out since February."

The AEPU's mandate is to produce 172 detailed reports, district by district, covering

the whole of Cambodia. Each district report will include information on the number

of potential voters at the district, commune and village levels; the exact location

of district and commune headquarters, as well as village locations; correct spellings

for all place names; and updated information on district borders.

Clive has two senior cartographers working on his team who are responsible for producing

updated maps using the data collected.

"We're producing a whole new set of maps for Cambodia," says Clive.

"We have the only cartographers in town, and as the maps are developend both

the civilian and military components of UNTAC are coming by to get the information

that we've collected."

The district reports will also include data to be used in determining the locations

of registration and polling stations. Road conditions, the locations of public buildings

such as schools, wats and government offices, gas stations, and distances between

villages will be noted.

To identify potential polling stations, information is also being collected on which

buildings have electricity, water, toilets, and if furniture exists, the number of

tables, benches, or chairs.

"We're laying the groundwork for the registration process," Clive says.

"The public has to realize that registration is the key issue. That's why we're

going to spend a lot more time on registration than on the election itself. We want

to insure that we can register everyone that is eligible to vote."

With the bulk of AEPU's work completed, Clive has taken a new position as deputy

electoral officer in the Electoral Component's Phnom Penh headquarters.

International Volunteers

To carry out the AEPU's nationwide survey, the U.N. developed an innovative, cost-saving

program involving the cooperation of the U.N. Volunteer (UNV) program, the arm of

the United Nations which places volunteers overseas to undertake, primarily, development-related


"This the largest UNV presence ever," says Kevin Gilroy, the UNV

staff person who, since February, has been in charge of setting up the

program in Phnom Penh.

"It's four times larger than anything the UNV has ever done. Everyone talks

about this new world order. Everyone talks about democracy, but our people are at

the core of the entire [UNTAC] effort. If we do a good job here, the UNV may be called

on in a massive way to undertake similar efforts elsewhere. This could be the wave

of the future."

An advance group of 21 UNVs arrived in Phnom Penh in February-six cartographers,

two computer database experts, two administrators, and eleven field coordinators.

They completed six weeks of intensive language training in Khmer and a two-week course

on electoral management.

In mid-April regional field coordinators were placed in provincial capitals, where

they have hired Khmers to serve as field investigators to assist them with data collection

at the commune and village levels. To date 58 Khmers are working with UNTAC as field


Commenting on whether its appropriate to have "volunteers" involved in

what most regard as a complicated and politically sensitive election process, Gilroy

says: "We've earned the reputation for getting good people and getting them

there quickly. We get people who are willing to go to difficult posts and stay there

for long periods of time. You have to have a certain level of commitment. UNVs know

what they're getting into-living in rural areas without electricity and other amenities."

UNTAC Election Component Chief Reginold Austin goes further. "We need to get

away from the terminology distinguishing UNVs from U.N. professional people,"

Austin says.

"Both are professionals; the only difference is that the professionals who signed

up under the UNV contract are prepared to do it for a lot less money. Far from regarding

them as sort of second-class operatives, I regard them as the most important officers

as far as the elections are concerned-they're on the very front lines."

The average age of the UNV contingent in Cambodia is 39. Single volunteers make $700

a month, while those with dependents back home earn $960. Housing is also provided;

many UNVs upon their arrival in Phnom Penh are put up in a dormitory at the Renakse

Hotel with ten bunk beds.

By July 15, 470 UNVs had arrived in-country, the bulk of whom will be deployed at

the provincial or district level.

One UNV who has been working in the field since April is Elizabeth Settemsdal. A

Norwegian who formerly worked for an NGO in Kenya, Settemsdal is the regional field

coordinator in charge of producing the AEPU report for Battambang province. She and

her staff of seven Khmer field investigators will have made a combined total of 541

visits to district, commune or village headquarters by the time the report is completed.

Settemsdal's visit to the Prek Norin commune headquarters was just one of the many

whirlwind stops around the province she has been making of late. Sitting down in

front of Commune Deputy Chief Ly Loeut and the Police Chief Sean Socheat, she introduces

herself and describes UNTAC's mission.

After delivering a five-minute presentation translated by one of the UNTAC Khmer

field investigators, Settemsdal asks if there are any questions. There are none.

The officials, still looking a bit nervous, then provide all the data required and

also draw a rough map locating relevant buildings, villages, etc. Other commune officials

sit to the side, a few with looks of bewilderment on their faces. Some may have never

seen a foreigner before.

The entire meeting takes less than an hour. Settemsdal thanks the officials for their

cooperation and then drives off.

"The Khmer officials are receptive, friendly, and interested," says Settemsdal.

"It's difficult for them to ask questions because they have little idea what

UNTAC is all about. Let's face it-UNTAC is new and there is some suspicion about

what we're doing. But I don't blame them-they've never met anyone from UNTAC. I'm

the first one."

"I like this kind of job," continues Settemsdal. "The speed is a little

too high but the assignment has to be completed by the end of July. I know that sometimes

I'm behaving inways that are a bit culturally inappropriate, but we've got to get

the job done."

By the end of June, 100 of the 172 district reports were completed and about 80 percent

of the data needed had been collected.

"Cooperation by three of the four factions has been excellent," says Serguei

Agadjanov, AEPU's fluent Khmer-speaking assistant coordinator. "Once we explained

what we wanted, showed [the Khmers] some respect, we got more information than we

were seeking."

The only major obstacle faced so far by the AEPU has been lack of cooperation by

the Khmer Rouge who have denied AEPU access to their zones.



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