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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - UN election report raps govt, NEC

UN election report raps govt, NEC

The UN human rights special representative released April 11 his third and final

report on the conduct of the 2002 commune elections. The report criticized the

government and the National Election Committee (NEC) for "serious underlying

problems" that afflicted the February vote.

It warned that these problems

needed to be addressed urgently, not least because the 2003 general election was

drawing near. The representative, Peter Leuprecht, said his initially favorable

impressions were "tarnished by ... events" after December 2001.

"[The

election process] exposed continuing and serious problems that cannot be

ignored," the report stated. "Chief among these has been the absence of proper

neutrality on the part of state institutions, the police, the armed forces and

individual local officials."

A key difference between the 1998 national

election and the local election held this year was the variation in violence by

region. Those areas that suffered least were those in which the CPP did well in

1998. Those which suffered worst of all were on trade routes, or former Khmer

Rouge zones, or places where the CPP had performed badly in 1998.

Adrian

Edwards of UNCHR said different reasons likely applied depending on the area

involved. Some could be linked to border trade, others to the changed political

situation since 1998.

"What it does say is that the CPP has continued its

efforts since 1998 to assert political control over the country, including in

those areas where they were challenged or didn't fare well in 1998," Edwards

said. "And that is reflected in the results seen in this election, which did

play to the CPP's advantage."

On the positive side, the special

representative highlighted Prime Minister Hun Sen's call on election day

appealing against acts of revenge. This appeal had "a marked effect" and was a

"very positive" development, Leuprecht stated. He was also gratified to note

that disputes after polling day were resolved in a "manner that avoided further

conflict".

Om Yentieng, personal advisor to Prime Minister Hun Sen,

dismissed the report's criticisms.

"They like to paint us in different

colors: sometimes they say the government and the CPP are two, other times they

say we are one," Yentieng said. "But democracy has rules and grammar. These

people should point out what is wrong with the grammar. They cannot force

Cambodia to do their will, and should not try to increase their control over the

heads of Cambodians."

One area the report focused on was the lack of

equitable access to the media. The UN said it was concerned at the failure of

the government to ensure this "pre-requisite for a free and fair election". It

also blamed the NEC for "hindering ... voter education initiatives".

"A

properly functioning and neutral system to inform the electorate of its choices

needs to be established well in advance of the 2003 election," the report

recommended.

The report warned of the danger to democracy of the lack of

separation between the government and the Cambodian People's Party (CPP). It

also highlighted the problems in Kampong Cham province, which saw the worst of

the violence with five election-related murders.

"For weeks ahead of the

election armed gangs roamed free at night ... targeting individual Funcinpec

candidates," it stated. "These groups were organized and were mainly comprised

of members of the security forces (police and military) and their

relatives."

Until now, it stated, no-one had been brought to justice for

any act of election violence in the province, whose victims were overwhelmingly

from the Sam Rainsy Party and Funcinpec. Security force personnel, the report

noted, "were behind many of the most serious acts of violence and

intimidation".

"Investigations into the numerous acts of violence and

intimidation ... identified the involvement of local officials, police and

members of [the army] in a clear majority of cases."

The UN human rights

agency recorded 17 politically related killings between January 1, 2001 and the

election, which was held February 3 this year.

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