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,"
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
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.