More Money Needed to Probe Thumbprints

A senior Interior Ministry official tasked with investigating the 170,000 thumbprints submitted in support of a CNRP petition to the king said on Thursday he had received samples of the prints but would be unable to proceed with his work without more money.

Prime Minister Hun Sen last week asked the Interior Ministry to assess whether the opposition party had forged some of the prints to bolster numbers on a petition calling for King Norodom Sihamoni’s intervention to end months of repression against government critics.

Mao Chandara, director of the ministry’s identification department, said he had been provided with some thumbprints but had not started to examine them because he did not have the facilities.

“They sent us some of them, but we can’t do anything yet because we don’t have the program to compare the prints,” Mr. Chandara said, explaining that his department had not budgeted for the required technology. “This program costs a lot of money.”

The government claims that the CNRP could not have collected so many thumbprints without cheating. That would constitute an act of disrespect for the king, an official said last week.

Deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha is currently staying inside the CNRP’s Phnom Penh headquarters for fear police will attempt to arrest him again—as they did on May 26—as other party officials collect thumbprints for a new petition to the king.

Opposition officials and activists have been briefly detained in every province across the country during the drive, according to the CNRP, with provincial authorities saying the opposition is tricking people into supporting the petition.

CNRP spokesman Yem Ponhearith told supporters keeping vigil outside the party’s headquarters on Thursday morning that the brief arrests were continuing.

“It’s Stung Treng and Svay Rieng which have recently detained people for a short time for collecting thumbprints and asked them to sign a contract to not do it [again],” he said. “They can do whatever they want, but we will keep collecting them until it reaches our plan.”

Men Kong, the governor of Stung Treng, defended the arrests of the petitioners, saying it was the responsibility of authorities to ensure that people are able to go about their daily lives without being bothered.

“If the authorities detain them, in some way they have interrupted people in their businesses or houses, or else the people were unable to go farming when they try to explain things too much to get thumbprints,” Mr. Kong said. “This is our mechanism.”

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