samlot district, Battambang province – A Sam Rainsy Party commune election candidate in Ta Sagn commune had his house torn down by government soldiers and military police, but officials in the CPP-dominated area deny it was political intimidation.
The candidate, Phat Sovanna, was squatting on government-owned land in Samlot village that had been designated for a health clinic, officials said, and two days after he was told to leave the land, he erected a Sam Rainsy Party sign in front of his house. Three days later, his house was razed.
But Phat Sovanna does not accept the government’s explanation. He says his neighbors’ houses are still standing, and the space cleared by removing his house is too small for a clinic.
Phat Sovanna, who once worked at the local Cambodian Mine Action Center offices across the street from his former house, now lives with his wife and child in a small shack a few meters from where his house stood.
“They said maybe if I didn’t put up the Sam Rainsy Party sign, maybe my house would not have collapsed,” he said.
The village finished its three-day voter registration for the commune elections on Aug 10. Local officials say 9,314 of the 10,264 district inhabitants registered to vote. Those who did not lived in remote areas and did not have time to register, said First Deputy Governor Nuon Setton.
Familiar with the story of Phat Sovanna, Nuon Setton said not only government officials objected to the location of Phat Sovanna’s house, CMAC officials were worried that having a Sam Rainsy Party sign directly across from their office would indicate their organization supports the opposition party.
“The land across from the CMAC offices belongs to the district anyway. The poor people cannot use it on their own,” Nuon Setton said. “All the people living [in that region] requested that the house be moved because they want that land for a hospital.”
Sam Rainsy Party secretary Eng Chhay Eang said he was unaware of the incident. So were officials in the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Samlot district Second Deputy Governor Mang Mon said Phat Sovanna was a shrewd man who merely wanted to protect his house.
“The house owner, he profits by saying it was politically motivated, but it didn’t happen like that. He put up the sign after we told him to move,” he said.
Phat Sovanna said he fears for his safety as the commune elections approach. The Sam Rainsy Party sign he erected still stands.
He said he plans to move his wife and child out of the region during the elections.