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Villagers defy shells to vote

Villagers defy shells to vote

ANGKOR THOM, (AP) - As Khmer Rouge shells exploded outside her village in northwest

Cambodia on May 24, Ven Rin, a 28 year-old rice farmer, grabbed her baby girl and

ran to a ditch outside her house for safety.

While she lay curled around her child, shrapnel from a nearby bursting shell tore

into her left arm.

She had intended to spend part of the day casting a vote in Cambodia's first multiparty

election in two decades. Now, she sat with a bloody bandage around her elbow in a

dirt-floored district hospital worrying about her home.

But her election plans had not changed. "I am sure that I am going to vote,"

she said.

Despite an apparent effort by the Khmer Rouge to scare people away from the polls

on the second day of the U.N. organized elections, people in this district five km

north of Angkor Wat showed little intention of staying home.

"Maybe a small number of people were disturbed by the shelling and did not come

to vote," said Roeun Oeum, Angkor Thom's district chief. "But most of the

people did come and did vote, even disabled people."

By the time Roem Oeum spoke late Monday morning, U.N. electoral volunteers estimated

more than 1,000 people had voted since Angkor Thom polling stations opened at 8:30

a.m. Together with Sunday's vote tally of 2,678, this meant that 69 percent of the

voters registered in the district already had cast their ballots with four more days

to go in the elections.

U.N. workers said Sunday's results exceeded their expectations. "Yesterday was

very surprising to me because this is a very tense district," said Sajjad Gul,

a Pakistani electoral supervisor working here.

The communist Khmer Rouge, which had vowed to disrupt the election, controls half

of Angkor Thom. Gul said local villagers warned him that the Khmer Rouge offered

a motorcycle and U.S. $200 in gold to anyone who threw grenades into a polling station.

On the first day of voting, government soldiers guarding a voting site stopped a

man from sneaking past with a grenade. He dropped the weapon and fled.

Tension continued the following day as two shells landed at 6:30 a.m. near a U.N.

military camp three kilometers to the north of a voting site. The district's three

polling stations opened half an hour late because of security concerns.

Although fewer people were lining up to vote than on the first day of the election,

Gul said most of the Cambodians living near by already had cast ballots.

"We are waiting now for people from outlying areas," he said. "It's

going to be slow now."

At about 10:15 a.m., another shell exploded near the U.N. military base and Cambodian

People's Armed Forces (CPAF) troops fired once in response. The U.N. police commander

at the polling site, who asked not to be identified, said the incoming round was

an attempt to intimidate voters.

Cambodians lining up to cast their ballots said the Khmer Rouge efforts would not

succeed and they seemed to ignore the nearby blasts of artillery.

"I was always afraid of the shelling but I must vote," said Hong Ham, a

70-year-old rice farmer who rode eight kilometers on his bicycle to reach the ballot

box.

Ven Rin, who lives in the village of Kandal, said the Khmer Rouge has shelled for

three mornings in a row.

"The Khmer Rouge always do harm to the people...The thing I want most is safety

to work in peace in my rice field."

The citizens of the provincial capital of Siem Reap, near Angkor Thom, were perhaps

more edgy than their peasant counterparts.

Rumors that Khmer Rouge guerrillas had attacked their town sparked a panic and sent

U.N. peacekeepers into foxholes and behind machine guns.

Residents streamed out of the central area of town on foot and bicycles and some

fled to a U.N. compound on the northern edge of town, which the Khmer Rouge had attacked

but failed to hold on May 3.

But the alarm was a false one. U.N. peacekeepers discovered no Khmer Rouge infiltrators

and found that in keeping with Cambodian folk tradition, someone had opened fired

at the sky to stop the rain.

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