July ’97 Fighting Still Rings in Voters’ Ears

But It Might Not Affect Votes Cast Outside the Capital

Cambodia’s dominant political party seems intent on downplaying if not ignoring altogether last July’s bloody factional fighting as an election issue.

One year after street battles left thousands of Cambodians homeless and dozens injured and killed, several CPP officials said it is best to let voters decide who was right or wrong rather than to spend energy justifying it.

“No one wished it to happen,” said General Neang Phat, a CPP central committee member and inform­ation director at the De­fense Ministry. “But it’s not possible to predict…whether it will cause people to hate the CPP. We cannot say. This is a problem we cannot evaluate.”

“Regardless of what happened in the past, the decision of the voter will be made freely,” said Svay Sitha, CPP member and a political adviser to the Council of Ministers. He went on to say that Cambodians are by nature pragmatic, and are likely to forget past suffering for the sake of deciding who their true “liberators” are.

Defense co-Minister Tea Banh, a member of the elite 20-member CPP permanent committee, said Thursday that the party would not be hurt at the polls by the fighting.

“The people of Cambodia under­­stand the cause of the events. They know it was a legitimate government action,” Tea Banh said, referring to the

standard administration position that the use of force was necessary to quell a building Prince Norodom Ranariddh-led, hard-line Khmer Rouge uprising.



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