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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - UNTAC Fails to Stem Political Violence

UNTAC Fails to Stem Political Violence

Late in the evening of January 31, a group of armed men dressed in State of Cambodia

(SOC) military uniforms arrived at the home of a member of Cambodia's main opposition

party in Battambang province, arrested and blindfolded him and took him away in the

night. The next evening the same group of soldiers returned to the village and kidnapped

five more FUNCINPEC party workers, loading them onto trucks and disappearing.

Incidents like this have occured throughout Cambodia. Despite UNTAC's public assertions

that the peace accords are moving forward toward elections, the Post has obtained

confidential UNTAC documents which paint an alarming picture of an election process

under siege.

Since mid-November there has been a skyrocketing pattern of violence and intimidation

against parties challenging the ruling State of Cambodia and their Cambodian People's


More than 50 incidents of political violence have been recorded against opposition

parties and Cambodian human rights organizations since November. More than 50 opposition

party workers have been killed and 30 wounded in the attacks. The State of Cambodia

has reported no complaints of political violence directed towards them to UN officials.

As of 31 January-which marked the end of nationwide voter registration and the creation

of 20 new political parties which will contest the U.N.-sponsored elections-analysts

here say that the political violence is a dark portend of things to come.

Furthermore, UNTAC has come under increasing criticism that they are unwilling to

confront or take action against officials of the State of Cambodia who are believed

to be orchestrating the campaign of intimidation. Critics say that UNTAC is afraid

that if they punish or remove SOC officials who they believe are behind the violence,

SOC will simply refuse to cooperate, making UNTAC look publicly helpless and further

eroding UNTAC's diminishing credibility in their task of ensuring that elections

are free from intimidation.

UNTAC's primary mandate for the 2.8 billion dollar peace accord is to create a neutral

political environment in Cambodia which ensures that parties can campaign freely

and without intimidation to ensure that fair elections can be held in May.

Critics of UNTAC's ability to protect opposition parties point to Battambang province

where they say battlelines were drawn in January between the U.N. and those behind

the intimidation. Here they say, the U.N. backed down.

Victims of political violence and intimidation in Battambang province include more

than 20 cases of assassination of opposition party workers, rocket assaults on opposition

party offices, kidnapping, threats and intimidation-all recorded by UNTAC in recent


"The election process is in grave danger of being completely compromised,"

said one internal report for distribution to senior UNTAC staff only. "All evidence

shows that the political environment in Battambang is characterized by violence and

repression. While blaming all such incidents on the National Army of Democratic Kampuchea

(NADK), the State of Cambodia is undertaking a systematic effort to terrorize the

political opposition and the population at large," said the document dated Dec.


FUNCINPEC and other party officials complain that UNTAC has made no arrests in Battambang

despite contentions that they have evidence of who is behind at least some of the


Many of the perpetrators were dressed in SOC military uniforms and witnesses have

supplied UNTAC with names of some of the alleged assailants.

Indeed, confidential UNTAC documents obtained by the Post show that UNTAC believes

that senior SOC officials are behind the violence. The governor of Battambang in

one report is accused of threatening to attack with rockets a house rented to the

FUNCINPEC party. The house was later attacked, injuring party workers.

Another UNTAC report says the Battambang provincial chairman of the State of Cambodia

and it's Cambodian People's Party is "blatantly non-cooperative with the electoral

process" and is believed to be "coordinating, or at least condoning acts

of violence against his opponents," UNTAC officials concluded in December.

The UNTAC report, while referring to the provincial party chairman as "incapable

of running the province,'' said that he "seems to show no signs of a willingness

to change and participate with the process in the future.'' The report said that

Ung Sami was "literally and figuratively laughing in the face of UNTAC."

UNTAC has made no arrests in Battambang.

The reason, according to senior UNTAC officials, is that the provincial chairman,

Ung Sami, is also the nephew of head of the CPP Chea Sim. UNTAC chief Yasushi Akashi

was prepared to exercise his powers and remove Sami in January, U.N. officials and

diplomats said, when SOC announced that any attempt to remove Sami would result in

SOC refusing to further cooperate with UNTAC or the peace process. Ung Sami remains

in charge of the province, and violence has continued.

Violence is not limited to Battambang. In Prey Veng, according to another confidential

UNTAC assessment, "SOC police intimidation and harassment of political party

officials were replete with allegations of death threats, armed intimidation, and

actual physical violence.'' It said that "UNTAC was seen as weak and ineffective

in curbing SOC intimidation" and that "SOC intimidation was clearly achieving

it's desired impact on the wider population." Reports from other provinces concluded

that ``SOC violence and intimidation... is blatant.'' In Phnom Penh, according to

another confidential assessment, ``...SOC/CPP have undertaken a full-fledged campaign

of violent political repression, thereby making it impossible for other provisionally

registered political parties to seriously conduct legitimate political activities.''

The refusal to take strong action against SOC officials has contributed to an erosion

of confidence in UNTAC's ability to protect, and has sent a strong message that the

consequences of engaging in political violence are minimal, say disgruntled UNTAC

officials and diplomats.

In January, UNTAC appointed a special prosecutor charged with arresting and trying

those suspected of political violence. Two people--one Khmer Rouge soldier accused

of murdering Vietnamese civilians and a SOC policemen accused of killing a FUNCINPEC

official-were subsequently arrested. But the SOC minister of justice ordered their

courts to refuse to arraign the suspects or cooperate with UNTAC.

Some UNTAC senior officials are proposing that some of the 15,000 UN soldiers or

3,600 UNTAC civilian police be permanently deployed at party offices throughout the

country, but the proposal has been initially tabled, say UNTAC officials. Military

officials say that they do not have the resources to deploy the soldiers permanently

at party offices, even though their initial function to supervise the cantonment

and disarmament of the factions armies is mute since the disarmament phase of the

peace accord was abandoned six months ago.

The major casualty of the recent political violence is UNTAC's credibility among

the population. Both SOC and the Khmer Rouge are belittling UNTAC's willingness to

assume authority, accused of standing by the sidelines while the factions move further

away from the peace accords.



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