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Comfrel: 16 political killings 'improvement'

Comfrel: 16 political killings 'improvement'

Sixteen people were killed as a result of political violence during June and July,

according to poll watcher Comfrel. Its report on political killings stated that eight

of the victims were affiliated with the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP), seven

with the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) and one with Funcinpec.

And while that is an improvement on previous elections, observers said the toll was

not good enough in a nation that is supposed to be nurturing democracy.

"This violence is unacceptable," said Koul Panha, director of Comfrel,

referring to a report by his election monitoring NGO that summarized politically-motivated

killings from January 2003 to the end of July. "But to get the number of killings

to zero-I don't know. We need to reduce impunity, bring perpetrators before the law,

and educate the people about democracy and tolerance of differences."

Panha highlighted how the killing of political activists was particularly destructive

because it deterred people from getting involved in politics as they had little confidence

that the system would protect them.

Panha said that Chea Vichea, the president of the country's largest trade union,

was an example of someone who had been chased away by threats and fear.

"He cannot live at the same address now. He has to always move around,"

Panha said.

The two entities directly responsible for election-related security and crime are

the National Election Committee (NEC) and the Central Bureau for Security (CBS) at

the Ministry of Interior (MoI).

Panha said the NEC was not strong enough to stand up to the ruling party when it

should. One example of this weakness, albeit small compared with murder he noted,

was that the NEC had neglected to enforce rules about broadcasting time for political

parties. While the CPP monopolized airtime, the NEC spoke only of the code of conduct

for broadcast media, and ignored the ruling party's blatant violation of the NEC's

regulations.

As for the CBS, Panha noted how vexed he was by its consistent and adamant denial

that any of the 16 deaths was politically related.

"Every case, every case it has denied," he said.

MoI spokesman General Khieu Sopheak confirmed that.

"All of the suspects we arrested confessed that these were not political cases,"

he said.

However he could not confirm how many suspects had been arrested, or how many cases

had confessions attached to them.

General Mao Chandara, a member of the CBS, said the bureau had investigated around

12 murder cases. He commented on a discrepancy in the number of people killed, adding

his belief that only 14 had been murdered in that time frame.

And while Panha noted that the last three elections have shown "a trend of reduction

in deaths," he said murder trends should have no place in politics or the analysis

of elections.

His view was shared by Kek Galabru, president of local human rights group Licadho.

Having witnessed politics over the last decade, she said the death of even one person

could not be considered conducive to democracy. However, she conceded that compared

to previous years, there was improvement.

Comfrel's report also detailed some 84 cases of intimidation and threats that took

place between June 26 and July 25. 'Intimidation' comprised grenade lobbing, shootings,

water poisoning and verbal disputes. The report said many intimidation cases had

taken place in Kampong Cham and Kratie.

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