Observer Groups: 31 People Killed in Pre-Election Period Say

In the nearly eight months leading up to Sunday’s national elections, 31 political activ­ists were killed in 28 incidents, the Committee for Free and Fair Elections and the Neutral, Im­partial Committee for Free and Fair Elec­tions said in a pre-election joint statement re­leased Friday.

Of those killed, the report said, 11 people were members of the CPP, 11 were members of the Sam Rainsy Party and nine were Fun­cin­pec members. The report also cited 23 “serious cases of threats and intimidation” and 268 cases of “the disruption of campaign activities, including harassment at party meetings and during political rallies.”

On Friday evening, Nicfec officials in Kom­pong Thom province reported that a CPP activists was also shot dead in front of his house on Thursday night. The motive for the shooting or the identity of the assailant was not yet known, Nicfec officials said.

“This year we have seen an overall reduction of politically motivated killings and serious cases of election related intimidation, however, the forms of intimidation have become more subtle and sophisticated,” the report said.

Representatives of Comfrel and Nicfec stopped short of calling the electoral process to date “free and fair,” preferring to reserve judgment for after the voting, counting and post election periods can be assessed, but said that this year’s electoral process so far has been more open than the period preceding the 1998  national elections.

“Violence in general has decreased compared to the 1998 election,” said Thun Saray, first representative of Comfrel, at a news conference Friday.

He said the National Election Committee had been more open this year on voter registration, but expressed concern that provincial and commune election committees were stacked with party loyalists.

“Seventy percent of those people have political tendencies toward the CPP and 20 percent have political tendencies toward Funcinpec,” said Thun Saray. As a result, disputes at provincial and communal levels have gone unresolved or were not resolved in an election law-mandated public hearing and that voters lack confidence in those institutions.

NEC spokesman Leng Sochea dismissed, as a new version of an old accusation, criticism that the election officials were hired on the basis of their party affiliation.

“We never regard whether people are members of the CPP or Funcinpec, [but rather] hire people who fulfill our criteria,” he said.

“It is difficult to find anyone who is not affiliated with any political party,” Leng Sochea said, “even [among] the Buddhist monks.”

The NEC spokesman dismissed accusations that disputes are not solved in a transparent manner.

Kek Galabru, president of the human rights group Licadho, who was also at the news conference, was cautious with her agreement with the assessment that the electoral process so far has been more democratic than in 1998, and cited the slaying of senior Funcinpec advisor Om Radsady in February as sending a strong message to the electorate.

“There has been a decrease [in violence] since 1998, but the level of fear among the people remains the same,” she said.

Kek Galabru also expressed concern that 25 percent of people who wanted to register for the first time were unable to register due to irregularities at the election committees.

The NEC’s Leng Sochea suggested that these people lacked the will to register and that “30 days is long enough” for registration.

“Even if you give them 100 days they still would not register,” he said.

Rousing their supporters in a final bout of street campaigning, the CPP and the Sam Rainsy Party organized large motorized cavalcades that criss-crossed Phnom Penh on Friday, while Funcinpec led a reported 20,000 people in a march on foot across the city.

The Funcinpec march began at the In­dependence Monument where party Pres­ident Prince Norodom Ranariddh railed against Prime Minister Hun Sen and prom­ised to lower the price of gasoline and eliminate corruption if elected.

“Hun Sen said he came to rule the country from empty hands. He had nothing to eat. But how many houses and cars does he have, and how much money?” the prince asked his supporters during a speech.

“[Hun Sen], go to farm, let others rule the country. Stop plowing on the backs of the people who are under your rule,” the prince said, adding that the prime minister’s famous school-building projects were founded on corruption money.

The prince also said that a CPP, Sam Rainsy Party coalition government would be led by a “puppet” and his “deputy puppet.”

“Do we vote for Yuon or Khmer? Vote for Khmer to salvage the Khmer. Vote for Funcinpec,” the prince said in his speech.

Yuon is a derogatory term for Vietnamese.

On Friday evening, a Sam Rainsy Party convoy numbering several thousand supporters caused traffic chaos on the arterial roads off Monivong Boulevard.

In a bid to uncover electoral frauds, the opposition party also said on Friday it would pay rewards of between $500 and $5,000 for information leading to the exposure of ballot rigging.

“We would like to stress that all information and evidence will be kept in strictest confidence to protect your safety,” the opposition said in a statement.

The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee also issued a statement on Friday expressing concerns at plans announced earlier this week by Director-General of National Police Hok Lundy to use force to suppress any post-election protests.

An umbrella group of rights organizations, the CHRAC said Hok Lundy’s threat to use attack dogs against demonstrations was an “act of intimidation.”

CHRAC appealed to the government, police and military police to respect the individuals right to freedom of expression as guaranteed in the Constitution.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Hun Sen will be casting his ballot in Takhmau town, Kandal province, Funcinpec President Prince Noro­dom Ranariddh will vote in Kompong Cham town and opposition leader Sam Rainsy will vote in Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district.

(Additional reporting by Lor Chandara, Phann Ana and Kevin Doyle)


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