Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - 23 CPP intimidations since poll-Comfrel

23 CPP intimidations since poll-Comfrel

23 CPP intimidations since poll-Comfrel

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NEC spokesman Leng Sochea, who says the committee is no longer responsible for security.

O fficials linked to the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) have been linked to 23 cases of intimidation nationwide in the past month. Election monitoring NGO Comfrel said it was concerned that the cases, against members of Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), came at a sensitive time of political deadlock.

Comfrel's monitoring coordinator, Mar Sophal, told the Post on August 26 that the majority of perpetrators were commune council officials, police, military and other supporters of the CPP.

"We found evidence that items such as weapons and grenades were used at the scenes of intimidation against supporters of Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party," Sophal said. "But I don't think this is a problem stemming from high-ranking politicians; rather it is from their supporters at the grassroots level. We are concerned about the villagers' security."

Sophal gave the example of a post-election celebration on August 3, when CPP supporters in Reach Monty commune, Svay Rieng province, insulted and intimidated SRP and Funcinpec supporters, threatening to bar them from using roads or schools "built by Prime Minister Hun Sen".

In another case the following day in Poipet commune, Banteay Meanchey province, four SRP activists were threatened and moved house for fear of being attacked.

Sophal said intimidation and discrimination against the two parties' supporters had increased since they rejected the election result and formed the Alliance of Democrats. All investigations by the CPP-aligned local authorities, he added, had rejected the complaints and concluded that they were due simply to misunderstandings or personal disputes.

Hang Puthea, the executive director of election monitoring NGO Nicfec, agreed that intimidation was taking place, but said it was not as widespread as after the 1998 general election or last year's commune elections.

"Since the local elections, activists and supporters of the opposition and Funcinpec indicate that they are afraid to speak out and express their opinions," Puthea said. "To avoid violence, they are choosing to leave it to the politicians to solve the problems."

Sophal said the lack of credible investigations meant many supporters of the SRP and Funcinpec were living under intense pressures. He said all that Comfrel could do was to appeal to the Ministry of Interior and the National Election Committee (NEC) to conduct investigations at the scenes.

But NEC spokesman Leng Sochea said the electoral committee no longer bore responsibility for security. He said the mandate of the Central Bureau for Security, the body tasked with providing security and investigating suspected acts of political intimidation, had expired once election day was over.

And given that the Provincial and Commune Election Commissions were being dissolved step by step, Sochea said the NEC no longer received information from the lower levels.

"Intimidation and murder are social issues that happen everywhere in the world, particularly in countries like Cambodia that have low levels of education," he said.

* Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said his party had completed a promised investigation into an incident on voting day when SRP supporters prevented around 100 ethnic Vietnamese in Kandal province from casting their ballots.

He said the investigation had found no evidence of an organized scheme to prevent them from voting, and said those involved were not known to the party "on an individual basis".

"This was a spontaneous initiative at a very local level," Rainsy said on August 27. "The people who were angry took this initiative, but they did this on a very personal basis. Whoever pretends to be our members should not resort to any violence."

A group of opposition supporters prevented around 100 citizens from voting and hounded them out of the ballot station in Kien Svay, Kandal province. The SRP supporters were later seen displaying the voter ID cards they had confiscated to opposition party staff at provincial headquarters.

Rainsy said the incident was "regretful", adding that people should keep in mind "the broader view ... that hundreds of thousands of Cambodians have been prevented from casting their ballots as well".

The SRP has consistently complained that the CPP acted contrary to the principles of democracy by preventing many of its supporters from voting.

Both Rainsy and Funcinpec leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh were criticized by election monitoring groups and human rights groups for their use of anti-Vietnamese rhetoric during campaigning.

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