The National Election Committee is creating a new commune election commission in Anlong Veng so ballots can be counted in the recently integrated Khmer Rouge stronghold, an NEC spokesman said Wednesday.
Information Officer Leng Sochea said that 11 polling stations have been formed to accommodate the nearly 5,000 voters registered in the last days of the voter registration period last month.
To spare the NEC from having to fly a helicopter with ballot boxes out of the remote, mine-surrounded area, a special counting center will tally the ballots there, he said.
Registering Anlong Veng, which only three months ago was considered an almost impregnable Khmer Rouge base, was a public relations coup for the NEC, which claims to have registered 98 percent of the estimated number of eligible voters in Cambodia.
But while the NEC went to great lengths to register 5,000 people in Anlong Veng, some 55,000 Cambodian refugees in Thailand have not been registered for the July 26 elections, an irony not lost on Leng Sochea.
“If we continued to register Anlong Veng, it means we must register people in Thailand, too,” he said Wednesday.
But he confirmed that it is now too late to do anything to allow the refugees to vote, despite what he called pressure from international groups.
The problem, he said, is that the electoral law passed by the National Assembly does not allow voter registration stations outside Cambodia.
“It is too late,” Leng Sochea said. “We cannot fulfill the demands of the UN or some countries or politicians that request the NEC to register the refugees in Thailand. You would have to change something in the law.
“If they had good interest [to register the refugees], they could have sent the people back to Cambodia before the registration deadline.”
But the UN High Commissioner for Refugees only sends refugees back to their home countries voluntarily, said Nellie Chan, head of the UNHCR liaison office in Phnom Penh.
Only a few thousand refugees have felt safe enough to return. “The conditions on the ground level are such that the areas to which [refugees] like to go back to are still volatile,” Chan said.