Battambang Senator, Villagers Describe Election Eve Standoff

battambang town – Out-of-the-way Boeng Alorn village in Bat­tam­bang district’s Omal commune had unexpected visitors on the eve of national elections.

“There were many police here,” said Mao Reth, 42. “The police had guns and rifles.”

Fellow villagers agreed. Vehi­cles carrying many men arrived in the earliest minutes of Sunday morning, called the “night of the barking dogs,” when neighborhood canines are roused by strangers campaigning.

Funcinpec officials say the stand­off was between themselves and gift-giving CPP members The CPP says it was the result of political games by Funcinpec.

Villager Meas Oun, 35, said Sunday she was frightened at first and stayed inside, where she could not make out the words of the confrontation happening in the narrow dirt road outside.

“We know they were CPP because the other group told us,” she said.

The other group was Funcin­pec—two members, including Senator Serey Kosal, the royalists’ No 3 candidate for Battambang province and former first deputy governor here. They arrived in a pickup truck, and blocked in the CPP cars, witnesses said. Provin­cial election committee officials followed later in a fourth car, according to provincial committee chief Ham Mony, who was also present with two colleagues that night.

“I asked the people with Fun­cin­pec who they were and they said they were neutral, and then they asked about the [first] two cars,” Meas Oun said.

Saturday night “I received an anonymous tip that Serey Kosal had blocked in two CPP cars,” Ham Mony said Monday. “When I arrived, I saw the police and Serey Kosal and [CPP candidate] Ngin Khorn talking.”

Ngin Khorn said he was in the village to meet his supporters, but Serey Kosal accused him of illegal campaigning, Ham Mony said. “He said, ‘I have proof. I have a photo.’”

“I told [Serey Kosal], ‘Yes, I will solve this case later because the election is tomorrow.’”

Serey Kosal said Sunday that he had been driving around with two men Saturday night, looking for any foul play by the CPP. He said he saw two cars driving together and followed them on a hunch. The cars led him to Boeng Alorn.

“When my car arrived, they cut on their headlights and saw me and said, ‘Oh, Serey Kosal!’” he said.

Serey Kosal said that Ngin Khorn, several low-ranking CPP officials and about 25 armed policemen were standing in the road. Then most of them broke rank and fled into the rice field carrying sacks. Serey Kosal has alleged that the sacks held gifts the CPP was about to distribute in an illegal bid for votes.

“They had the guns, so I don’t know why they ran away,” he said Monday. “I saw Mr Ngin Khorn run away and fall down in the rice field. I was very sorry. If I’d had a good camera, I could have taken a good picture.”

Serey Kosal took some pictures, but the ones he said he wanted did not turn out. The ones he got only document the presence of cars and a few men on a dirt road.

But before developing the film that he hoped would vilify his competition, Serey Kosal said, “Wheth­er my photo is good or not, the two cars are important evidence.”

“That’s why I blocked the two cars with my [truck].  There was no reason for those cars to drive anywhere at nighttime,” he said.

By the time Ham Mony and his provincial election committee colleagues had arrived, all of the men who had allegedly fled were present by the blocked-in cars. Serey Kosal said that Ngin Khorn and his men, the CPP-aligned policemen, had returned after stashing the gifts they’d hoped to distribute. He said Ngin Khorn had changed from a white outfit into navy blue.

Ngin Khorn could not be reached for comment. But Second Deputy Governor Pa Socheatvong of the CPP on Sunday acknowledged the election eve standoff.

“Both sides suspect each other, and both sides inspect each other. Both are playing games. It is good to have such rivalry,” he said.

A mystified Meas Oun said the men left her village after nearly an hour of discussion—but no gifts were handed out.

“If they had given the gifts, we would have accepted, because we are very poor. Some people here don’t even have rice,” she said.


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