Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Kampong Cham maintains violent lead

Kampong Cham maintains violent lead

Kampong Cham maintains violent lead

Kampong Cham province is fast emerging as the Kingdom's answer to the wild, wild

west, with five of the 15 election-related killings since 2001 reported from this

province alone. Explicit threats, including death threats against political candidates

and supporters of both the SRP and the royalist Funcinpec, seem to have become the

norm.

In the 1998 election the province emerged as a hotspot, recording some of the most

severe instances of killings and intimidation. In one case on June 10, 1998, SRP

member Em Iem was arrested by the village chief, commune police and local militia

chiefs, blindfolded and taken to a nearby rubber plantation. His body was found several

days later in a shallow grave and had signs of severe assault.

Election observers said the reason for the continuing trend was probably not hard

to discern. They cited one of the worst affected districts, Thbong Khmum, and said

ongoing conflicts there seemed to be a desperate effort by local political leaders

fighting for their political survival. The CPP was embarrassed when the district,

traditionally a provincial bastion for the ruling party, fell to Funcinpec in the

1998 election.

The residents of Thbong Khmum are currently subjected to a reign of terror by a group

of 5 or 6 armed men in military uniforms.

"Typically, these people, who carry flashlights and AK-47 assault rifles, descend

on the village after sunset and create a ruckus including shooting at homes or kicking

at the front doors," said an election observer monitoring the situation there.

In a series of such incidents that led to the disappearance January 12 of a resident

of Anchaem commune, believed to be a Funcinpec supporter, the gang targeted his extended

family and stole jewelry, cash and other valuables, a source told the Post.

Thbong Khmum, the neighboring district of Ponhea Krek and Chhouk district in Kampot

all figure in the recently released UN human rights report on election related violence.

Singling out these districts, the report said the atmosphere was particularly tense

in the communes in these areas and stated that witnesses and victims were often nervous

about talking about what had happened.

Farmers allied with the SRP in Ponhea Krek were subject to a chain of arson attacks

late December in which the haystacks next to their homes were set on fire by unidentified

miscreants. The January killings of a female election candidate and her husband,

the UN report pointed out, took place in Chhouk district.

In the same district last August, the report said the local authorities refused to

recognize the residency of three prospective Funcinpec candidates, despite their

having lived there for four years. They were thus denied the right to register as

candidates or voters.

An SRP candidate in Me Muth district was questioned about his voting intentions August

23 and told that a bullet would go through his forehead unless he behaved. In Dambe

district December 10, a military commander and the village authorities told an SRP

candidate his house would be burned down unless he removed a party signboard.

"It is important to note here that the impact of violence and intimidation on

individual communities is frequently exported to others via the contagion effects

of fear," the report said. Sources said such a contagion effect had already

being noted in and around Srolop, Anchaem, Taken and Tropaing Plaing communes.

The western provinces of Battambang, Banteay Meanchey and Pailin also figure in the

trouble spots identified in the UN report, with particular concern expressed over

the behavior of the military in the districts of Sampov Loun, Phnom Preuk Komrieng,

Koas Krolor and Samlot. The UN said the situation seemed to be worse in some regions

than during the pre-election environment of 1998.

"A common factor among the trouble-afflicted districts in Banteay Meanchey and

Pailin is the high voter support for the SRP during the 1998 elections. Here, the

districts where most problems have been reported are Malai in B. Meanchey and Pailin

and Sala Krao in Pailin municipality," the report stated. "In each of these,

the SRP share of vote in 1998 exceeded 40 percent. [In contrast], no troubles were

seen in areas where the CPP votes exceeded 40 percent."

The National Election Committee was also criticized in the UN report for failing

to act suitably on any complaints, despite having a clear mandate to do so under

the commune election law.

Urging the authorities to conduct thorough and impartial investigations into the

killings , the UN said its intention was to highlight the problems that had come

to its notice and provide recommendations to the government to tackle problems promptly

"so that the elections could be held in a free and fair manner".

The government's human rights advisor dismissed the UN's report saying that the organization

had not conducted a thorough investigation into the cases.

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