Chhnang, a small village of about 40 thatched huts near the Vietnamese border is
in one of the few Khmer Rouge (KR)-held areas in Cambodia where the United Nations
Transitional Authority in Cambodia has been allowed to carry out voter education.
The program which focuses on human rights, democratic principles and the electoral
process has been well-received by the villagers but the local Khmer Rouge commanders
and soldiers have generally stayed away.
U.N. military observers (UMNOs) who monitor the area explained the KR's reticence,
saying that the radical faction feared a surprise attack from government soldiers.
"We have seen them spread out into the surrounding forest when we come into
the village. They don't want anything to go wrong while the U.N. is here," said
one of the military observers who declined to be named.
But the villagers in Chhnang said it was because the local Khmer Rouge had no real
interest in the May election which the United Nations hopes will restore peace in
Cambodia after two decades of war.
"The only thing they care about is logging, said Khem Gan, the village headman.
He said that while the villagers feared the Khmer Rouge they felt that it was safe
to vote for the candidate of their choice.
"They [Khmer Rouge] mostly leave us alone and the U.N. has told us the ballot
will be secret.
"What we are more worried about is that the CPAF troops in the area think we
are Khmer Rouge and might attack us," he said.
Khmer Rouge and government troops in the province have clashed sporadically in the
past, although villagers said this was mostly for control of the lucrative hardwood
In the more volatile western and central parts of Cambodia, U.N. positions have been
shelled and peacekeepers killed and kidnapped by the Khmer Rouge.
But in Mondulkiri the United Nations has been able to establish cordial ties with
the radical Marxist group.
"They are very disciplined here," said Haing Tian, who works as an interpreter
for the U.N. civilian police in Sen Monorom, the provincial capital.
"The first time we made contact with them they treated us like monks,"
The national policy of the Khmer Rouge has been not to cooperate with the peace keeping
mission, which the faction accuses of failing to create a neutral political environment
or taking seriously the KR's claims of a hidden Vietnamese military presence.
The villagers of Chhnang, who are mostly from the Stiang hilltribe, said they were
confident the U.N.-sponsored election would bring peace to Cambodia and were outspoken
in their support for the Phnom Penh government, the Khmer Rouge's arch enemies.
"[Cambodian Prime Minister] Hun Sen is like the mother's breast and we are his
babies," said Khnon Leun, a 25-year-old farmer.
"If Hun Sen wins he will rid the area of the Khmer Rouge," he said.
After more than three decades of suffering at the hands of Prince Norodom Sihanouk's
and Lon Nol's anti-insurgency operations, US carpet bombing, and the Khmer Rouge's
disastrous social experiments the villagers said they hope the election will bring
peace to their lives.
Meuk Si Lat, a 21-year-old mother of one said drunken Khmer Rouge soldiers had come
to Chhnang earlier in the year and abducted her husband.
"We went to the Khmer Rouge camp and pleaded with them that my husband was a
good man and they let him go," she said.
Meuk said she had attended all the U.N.'s democracy lessons and essentially agreed
with their message.
"It is the right way. It doesn't matter how old somebody is, or whether they
are a man or woman they all have one vote.
"The whole world should vote," she said.
"And they should all vote for Hun Sen."