Poll Jitters Send People Scurrying for Supplies

People began streaming into Phnom Penh’s markets this week to stock up on staple goods amid fears of unrest in the run-up to elections, market vendors and officials said Wednesday.

The capital’s O Russei market has been swamped the past two days with people buying instant noodles, dried fish and canned food, market chief Tan Seng Hieng said.

In addition, the prices of the goods have buoyed as market stocks decrease due to buying sprees, market officials said. For instance, a box of 20 packages of instant noodles rose from roughly $3.30 to about $3.85.

Residents of the capital and the surrounding provinces are pre­paring for the July 26 vote, when they expect the streets and markets may close and political violence could break out, shopkeepers and market officials said. Many people are planning not to leave their homes in the days immediately before and after the polling day.

“I have no confidence in a smooth election,” said Leakena, a market shopper who asked that her family name not be used. “So I’d better have some food in re­serve at home.”

While people said they have heard the rumors of troop movements and planned activities of terrorist groups, they said they doubt fighting would break out. However, they said they should stock up on food anyway. “Better be prepared,” one shopper commented.

An O Russei shop owner who asked not to be named said he would close his shop on election day and the day after. “Things will be OK if [Second Prime Min­ister] Hun Sen wins the election, but if he loses, there will be trouble,” he said.

But any fighting that breaks out will be minor compared with the factional fighting that tore through Phnom Penh last July 5 and 6, the shop owner said.

Wholesalers are pursuing debts owed to them by retailers, Tan Seng Hieng said. If something happens, he said, people want to have their money.

Also, one bank official said clients have begun withdrawing their money in expectation of trouble.

Canadia Bank has increased its reserve money by 30 percent to absorb cash losses as bank customers pour in to withdraw money, the bank’s general manager, Pung Kheav Se, said Wed­nesday.

“People are worried right now about the rumors of instability, but I don’t know who would fight with who,” said Pung Kheav Se, who is also treasurer of the Phnom Penh Chamber of Com­merce.

National Radio on Wednesday repeated recent CPP allegations that “terrorists”—an apparent reference to resistance troops loyal to Funcin­pec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh—are infiltrating the country from border strongholds to disrupt elections. Prince Ranariddh, the deposed first prime minister, alleged Tuesday that the CPP is plotting to disqualify him from elections.

And rumors of hard-line CPP troops and weapons buildups around Takhmau and in the eastern provinces have spread through the capital this week.

“The rumors [of impending fighting] are psychological warfare by the opposition to attempt to cause unrest before elections,” Phnom Penh First Deputy Gov­ernor Chea Sophara said Wed­nesday.

One military analyst said the rumors are simply smear campaigns for the opposition and the government to “get even” with each other. “There is no accuracy to these rumors, they are simply bellyaching,” the analyst said, adding that an indicator of real trouble are tank movements.

The number of tanks at Hun Sen’s Takhmau residence, the military airport and the headquarters of well-armed Brigade 70—both located west of Phnom Penh—have stayed steady, the analyst said.

Meas Sophea, deputy chief of RCAF general staff, said Wed­nesday that the army has reinforced security along Cambodia’s northwest borders to prepare for an attack by alleged renegade troops in hiding there.

Top RCAF generals over the weekend said they fear that troops belonging to resistance and Khmer Rouge units along the northwest border areas would attempt to destabilize election day.

About 50,000 to 60,000 police and military police are assigned for duty to keep public order across the country during elections, Huot Chheang, deputy chief of operations for RCAF general staff, said Wednesday.

Soldiers, however, have been ordered to keep clear of areas around ballot boxes to avoid scenarios in which voters would feel threatened, Huot Chheang said.

(Additional reporting by Touch Rotha, Kimsan Chantara and Marc Levy)



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