Police Work, Politics Overlap as Pre-Election Violence Rises

baray district, Kompong Thom province – Sao Thel said it was an argument over politics.

He said he had finished posting Sam Rainsy Party leaflets in the Chakra Louk commune when he was attacked and wounded by his machete-wielding brother-in-law.

“Because I love the Sam Rainsy Party, he doesn’t like me,” Sao Thel said last week.

His alleged attacker, Ven Phally, said the June 26 dispute was about a stolen hammer. A drunken Sao Thel threatened him with a metal rod, Ven Phally says, so he picked up a machete in self-defense.

“Sao Thel was unhappy when I took the hammer back,” said Ven Phal­ly, a CPP member. “That is why he tried to beat me…. Who someone votes for, that’s their right.”

As has happened in many re­cent incidents, election monitoring groups labeled it political violence, while local authorities called it a personal dispute. In the run-up to the election, solving crime is as much politics as police work.

Parties and election monitoring groups are sometimes too hasty in labeling crimes as political, said Somsri Hananuntasuk of the Thai-based Asian Network for Free Elections.

“Most of the time [the victims] are political activists, and that raises concern,” she said. “But we need more time to investigate these things…. Some of them might be [politically motivated], some of them might not be.”

Under the eyes of monitoring groups and the donor com­munity, reports of political violence can benefit opposition parties.

Anfrel is currently investigating a case in the Rumduol district of Svay Rieng province, where a man was fatally shot June 6. The victim’s wife said he and his family were supporters of the Sam Rain­sy Party since 1998, Somsri said.

The second deputy governor said the victim—shot twice in the head, twice in the body—was a CPP member, she said.

“Officials want to say the dead person belongs to their party in order to claim sympathy,” she said. “We have to be careful.”

On the other hand, government officials are reluctant to acknowledge political violence and often conduct insincere investigations, monitors say.

Koul Panha, Com­mittee for Free and Fair Elections director, said authorities are ignoring a rise in violence since the start of campaigning last month.

From January to June 26, Com­frel recorded 11 killings of political activists. Since then, eight political activists have been killed, he said.

“We are still questioning if there has been a credible investigation,” Koul Panha said. “[The government] says none are politically motivated killings. I don’t think so. We have to question that.”

Including Sao Thel’s case, at least six incidents of suspected political violence have come under the scrutiny of the Kompong Thom provincial election committee. No one has been cited for violating election law.

“I had anticipated that there would be a lot of problems during the election campaign, but so far the situation is good and safe,” said Preng Savuth, the committee chairman.

He partially credited an in­creased police presence for the low number of reports. Five to seven officers have been deployed to each commune, he said.

“Offenders will feel afraid to provoke political violence,” Preng Savuth said.

Still, most of the cases the provincial election committee has investigated, including a recent slaying, remain open.

Pring Nuon, 52, was shot through the throat with an automatic rifle as he slept at his home in Krachea commune, Prasat Balang district, on June 28, police said.

Pring Nuon was an active member of the royalist party, according to Funcinpec Senator Sim Soly. Sim Soly would not speculate on a motive for the attack.

No arrests have been made, but police have eliminated politics as a possible motive.

“According to the investigation, this was a revenge killing,” Preng Savuth said. “This was not a political killing.”


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