Nhim Vanda’s Office Denies Observer Link

The office of longtime CPP General Nhim Vanda denied any link between the top adviser to Second Prime Minister Hun Sen and a controversial NGO that is cleared to provide more than 24,000 Cambodian observers for the July 26 elections.

Nol Sophat, acting president of the Buddhist Relief Association, identified himself Tuesday as a fund-raiser for Nhim Vanda. The NGO’s former president, Sok Sony, also said Nol Sophat re­ceived a salary from Nhim Vanda and volunteers his time at the association.

But Wednesday, after a re­porter called Nhim Vanda’s office, an assistant wrote a letter denying that the general was associated with either the Buddhist Relief Association or Nol Sophat.

“We would like to inform you that Nhim Vanda has never had a friend or employee named Nol Sophat and he never paid him for doing anything,” the letter said.

“From my conclusion, Nol So­phat has a bad idea to cheat the poor, innocent people and distort the reputation of one good and loyal government member,” wrote Pon Narith, who identified himself as an assistant to the Nhim Vanda.

Neither Nol Sophat nor Sok Sony could be reached Wed­nesday. Workers at their office said they had gone to Kampot.

Nhim Vanda was in Prey Veng, said an assistant who answered his mobile phone. Nhim Vanda is a CPP candidate for parliament in Prey Veng.

By law, the longtime general—whose position as adviser to Hun Sen is equal to that of a minister—must resign his military position while standing for parliament. A Ministry of Defense official reached Wednesday evening said he did not know whether the general had resigned or not.

Wednesday’s developments deepened the mystery surrounding both the Buddhist Relief Association and the sudden bum­per crop of Cambodians signed up as monitors. Esta­blished ob­server groups had hoped to muster 10,000, but the official National Election Com­mittee has more than 60,000 names.

With more than 24,000 names on its observer list, the Buddhist Relief Association appears to be the largest of the 13 NGOs ap­proved to provide observers for the elections. But at least three members of the group, including one founding central committee member, have said that until recently, the association had only about 1,000 members.

The members, who showed identification cards from the NGO but insisted on anonymity, said the number of observers mushroomed shortly after Nol Sophat became president. He replaced Sok Sony, who tempora­rily resigned to stand as a parliamentary candidate for the Free Development Republican Party of Ted Ngoy.

Some in the NGO became concerned when soldiers in uniform began showing up to collect observer cards, disgruntled members said. They have filed a complaint with the Ministry of Interior and the central committee member said she planned to file a complaint with the NEC.

Asked Tuesday about the complaints, Nol Sophat and Sok Sony admitted that some soldiers may have slipped onto the observers list, but that it was inadvertent. It was during that interview that the two claimed that Nol Sophat was employed by Nhim Vanda.

Meanwhile, officials with the NEC said Wednesday that the committee would investigate any links between observer groups and the military or any political party.

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