The president of a controversial NGO cleared to provide 24,000 national election observers has insisted that Nhim Vanda, adviser to Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, has nothing to do with his association, although he confirmed over the weekend that he works for a government agency headed by the retired CPP general.
“Nhim Vanda has nothing to do with the Buddhist Relief Association,” said association president Nol Sophat.
Nol Sophat also stressed that his job as a deputy director for fund-raising is not for Nhim Vanda personally. He said a reporter misunderstood a translation of his job title.
“I work for the Youth and Rehabilitation Center, which is a government agency headed by Nhim Vanda, who is a minister,” he said.
He also said he uses a different name for his government work, which he said is the reason Nhim Vanda’s office has denied knowing him. “I do not want to use the same name, and [I think] it is not bad to do this. You see, everyone has several names [in Cambodia].”
A statement last week from Nhim Vanda’s office denied any knowledge of the Buddhist Relief Association, whose sudden jump from 1,000 to 24,000 observers after Nol Sophat took over raised eyebrows, especially after some worried members reported that soldiers in uniform had come to the office to pick up membership cards.
Election watchdogs such as the Committee for Free and Fair Elections have expressed alarm at the unexpected number of observers and said they feared a plot to crowd out trained national observers from the polls.
A quote last week from the former Buddhist Relief Association president Sok Sony that the association’s new president Nol Sophat “gets a salary from Nhim Vanda” added to those fears.
An assistant to Nhim Vanda last week denied that Nol Sophat had any association with the powerful CPP general, whose position as adviser to Hun Sen is equal to that of minister.
Nhim Vanda has also apparently resigned his military post to stand as a CPP parliamentary candidate in Prey Veng.
Asked about the denial, Nol Sophat said over the weekend that he uses the name Keo Samnang in his government work and Nol Sophat in his private life.
“Nhim Vanda does not know Nol Sophat,” Nol Sophat said over the weekend.
He added that the Youth and Rehabilitation Center is a non-partisan agency. “We have CPP, Funcinpec both working there,” he said. “Even though I work with Nhim Vanda, I am neutral. I do not support either CPP or Funcinpec.”